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Assembly supports new Education Authority

8 December, 2008 - by Caitríona Ruane

The establishment of the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) has moved a step closer with the second stage of the Education Bill receiving Assembly support.

Speaking after an Assembly debate on the Bill, Sinn Féin Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, said:

"This is an important stage in my programme of reforms for education. The establishment of the Education and Skills Authority on 1 January 2010 will see the most fundamental reform of our education system in a generation.

"Reform that is urgently needed if we are to ensure equality and raise standards in education for all children and young people. Education is a public service that has the potential to shape and guide the development and life chances of our young people; to build strong cohesive communities and to drive and fuel our economy.

"I welcome the support this Bill received in the Assembly. Members recognise the need to streamline the administration of education and direct additional funding to schools.

"This Bill establishes ESA with the core functions of planning, supporting and challenging education. ESA will be the employer of around 50,000 staff. Staff who have served with dedication and distinction in the various education organisations over the years.

"The establishment of the ESA has the potential to redirect around £20million each year to frontline services. This will be achieved through the reduction of around 460 posts and I am confident that these can be achieved through voluntary redundancy and early retirement. Indeed, more than half these posts are currently vacant across the education bodies and these are being managed in line with an agreed vacancy control policy.

"If redirected to frontline services, this £20million has the potential to build three new primary schools and one new post primary school every year; or cover the cost of 700 new teachers every year or cover the cost of the youth services capital building programme four times over.

"ESA will be founded on democratic accountability with the majority of its members being local councillors. The objective is effective, responsive local delivery of services within a consistent policy framework.

"In addition, I will be seeking to locate the ESA headquarters in line with the Bain recommendations on the location of public sector jobs.

"The Bill contains provisions to dissolve the nine existing statutory organisations and transfer their staff, assets and liabilities to the ESA. A range of functions will also transfer to ESA.

"Raising standards is at the heart of the Bill, with clear statutory duties on the Department of Education, the ESA and schools. Child protection arrangements will be strengthened with strong powers to intervene where necessary. Further provisions will place the funding of early years services on a formal statutory basis for the first time.

"The Bill aims to maximise the autonomy of schools, by for example, giving schools the authority to draw up the governance and employment arrangements that they will operate. Strong leadership in schools can be one of the most important factors in raising standards and this Bill lays the foundation for the encouragement of leadership and innovation.

"The establishment of the Education and Skills Authority will lay the foundations for a new education system which recognises diversity, promotes equality and the achievement of high standards. It will help every school become a good school and support every learner to achieve his or her full potential." ENDS

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