Northern Ireland news

Executive `will' work to improve education system

The executive will ?urgently resolve the teachers' industrial dispute. Picture by Hugh Russell

ON issues critical to education, there is oodles of optimistic language in the draft deal.

Essentially, the executive "will" work to cure all ails. Only it won't. It will try, however.

While it is fair to speak with conviction, many commitments are aspirational and dependent on lots and lots of cash.

Replacing "will" with "would like to" would be more accurate.

The deal confidently proclaims that "the executive will urgently resolve the current teachers' industrial dispute".

Teachers have already remarked that they may not share this hope.

They need a lot of coin to sort it out - about £80 million. That is for pay alone and takes no account of workload, which is another reason for the industrial action.

The executive will also ensure that "every school has a sustainable core budget to deliver quality education."

The number of schools in the red has more than doubled since Stormont collapsed three years ago. Close to 600 schools have combined debts totalling £62.6m.

The NAHT union has already said it will be imperative that the core budget rises not only with inflation but with pupil number increases.

There is notional talk about tackling the fragmented nature of the schools system, something to which previous executives have paid lip service but never managed to progress.

Plans to have the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools included in the single Education Authority were abandoned long ago and there remains strong demand for faith schooling.

In addition, the desegregation drive is more about, as the deal states, "securing greater efficiency in delivery costs" than anything else.

It goes on to woolily mention building "a shared and integrated society" by supporting educating children of different backgrounds together in the classroom.

This happens in many schools now and the Department of Education already has a duty to promote both shared and integrated education.

Among the other proposals is an "expert group" to develop a plan to address links between persistent educational underachievement and socio-economic background, including long-standing issues facing working-class, Protestant boys.

New legislation will also include a duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the use and understanding of Ulster Scots.

Issues highlighted in a critical audit office review of special educational need, which found that the department could not demonstrate it was providing effective support, will be "addressed as a priority".

In higher education, Ulster University is the big winner.

The executive will bring forward proposals for the expansion of its Magee campus in Derry, including an increase in students.

This will help it realise its 10,000 student campus target and a graduate entry medical school.

The university had to abandon its plans to recruit medical students to begin this year. It blamed the absence of a ministerial decision on funding for the delay.

The Irish government too has said it is "willing in principle to contribute to capital investment to support expanded provision at Ulster University Magee campus".

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