Empty desk figures `don't add up' says Public Accounts Committee

There are more than 70,000 surplus places, or empty desks, at the north's schools

THE calculation of empty desks in schools "just does not add up", according the Assembly Public Accounts Committee.

Publishing its report on the Sustainability of Schools, the committee expressed concern about the reliability of the Department of Education's data.

The calculation of surplus school places is based on approved enrolments less actual enrolments. However, the approved enrolment figure is, in many cases, based on historic school capacity data.

Some schools appear to have a large number of empty desks because their approved enrolment is greater than it should be. In many cases, the school would not have room to admit any more pupils, even though they appear, on paper, to have empty desks.

The department reported that since 2008/09 the number of surplus places fell from 83,376 to 71,540. About half of this reduction was due to demographic changes.

The committee said it was of the view that the figure for total surplus school places was likely to be overstated.

"We are concerned by the fact that the department has failed to recognise the fundamental flaws in its own management information. It is concerning that the department's calculation of the actual number surplus school places may be substantially lower than the figure reported by the department," said committee chair Michaela Boyle.

The committee also found that progress in delivering the department's sustainable schools policy had been slow. The policy was initiated to develop a network of educationally and financially viable schools.

"Where a school is clearly no longer sustainable, the department should ensure that the Education Authority and other school managing authorities must take action quickly to avoid a protracted period of decline," Ms Boyle added.


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