Education news

Head of new controlled schools body speaks about closures, standards and leadership

Barry Mulholland is head of the new Controlled Schools Support Council

THE head of a new support body for controlled schools has said he will not stand in the way of closures - saying pupils come before institutions.

The Controlled Schools Support Council (CSSC), which was made operational last September, aims to give a strong and effective voice to the 562 state schools.

It is the first time the north has had such a body for the controlled sector.

The Catholic maintained, Irish-medium, voluntary grammar and integrated sectors all have support bodies for their schools.

The CSSC has 17 full-time equivalent staff and a budget of about £1 million.

It is led by Barry Mulholland, who previously served as chief executive of the former Western Education and Library Board and, more recently, as regional managing director of the Education Authority (EA).

In his first interview in his new role, Mr Mulholland told The Irish News that raising standards in schools, training governors and area planning would be the new council's major areas of work.

The EA is expected to soon present a final 'area plan' of educationally and financially viable schools across the north. For some, this will mean closure or amalgamation.

"It will not just be about closing schools. It will also be about right-sizing schools," Mr Mulholland said.

"If you asked me was I going to defend every school that is proposed for closure, I would say no. The CSSC recognises the need for area planning. If a school is not sustainable and it is in the best interests for the pupils for it to close, we will not stand in the way of that. Area planning has to take that into account.

"We will provide advice to controlled schools based on what is in the best interest of pupils."

Another important area of work, Mr Mulholland said, is raising standards.

Many reports have been published in recent years highlighting the underachievement of poorer Protestant boys, the majority of whom would attend controlled schools.

The CSSC will undertake research into how ethos can improve standards, he said.

"There are two misconceptions about controlled schools. That the sector is secular, and secondly that it is Protestant. It is more complex than that," Mr Mulholland said.

"It is a non-denominational, Christian grouping of schools, but open to all faiths and none. Within these schools you would have ones that are majority Protestant, but also have some that are almost 100 per cent Catholic."

The CSSC will also provide training and support for governors, in partnership with the EA, to help them "recruit the best leaders as is possible".

"Our role is to work with the EA to establish a pool of assessors and develop a consistent approach to appointments of leadership positions," he said.

Schools in the sector include special, nursery, primary, secondary, grammar as well as some integrated and Irish-medium providers.

About 90 per cent of eligible schools are now registered with CSSC.

"Schools are very positive and we are being very well received," Mr Mulholland said.

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