Northern Ireland news

Teacher, governor and committee chair Michelle McIlveen named new education minister

Michelle McIlveen, the north's new education minister. Picture by Mal McCann

MANY of those predicting which of Edwin Poots' allies would be the new head at Rathgael House made the same educated guess.

As a teacher, a governor and one-time education committee chair, Michelle McIlveen ticked several boxes.

Some parents on social media forums, underwhelmed with the outgoing Peter Weir, appear somewhat excited by the reshuffle.

This is difficult to understand as nothing will change the DUP's education policies.

The only difference between yesterday and today is that these same policies are now in the hands of someone slightly less experienced.

Mr Weir hinted there would be little change when he said that his successor would "pick up the baton and run with it".

There will be no change to grammar school entrance tests nor any immediate impact on the transfer dilemma facing P6s and P7s - which is what most parents demand.

Ms McIlveen is a former teacher of A-level history and politics at Grosvenor Grammar School in Belfast.

Elected as a DUP member for Strangford in 2007, she was appointed to the assembly education committee for the first time in 2007.

She also served as chair of the all party group on children and young people.

Ms McIlveen was named chair of the education committee in September 2014 and remained in the role until May 2015 when she was promoted to junior minister.

She was promoted again before the end of 2015 when named regional development minister and later served as agriculture minister until March 2017.

Away from politics, the new minister is heavily involved in education matters.

She is chair of the governors of Killinchy PS and also serves on the boards at Nendrum College in Comber and Castle Gardens PS in Newtownards.

Unions have said Ms McIlveen is taking the educational reins at an absolutely critical point.

Officials at the Department of Education were yesterday working on a first day briefing for the incoming minister.

Once in office, Ms McIlveen will inherit a bill that plans to introduce some flexibility around the school starting age. It is hoped that this legislation can be brought forward before the current assembly mandate ends in 2022, although time is running out. As chair of the committee she had said there was a need for flexibility.

Ms McIlveen will also be tasked with implementing the numerous recommendations made in a report into persistent educational underachievement and socio-economic background. Her predecessor just about got this report over the line last week.

She will also have plenty to keep her occupied around the continuing funding crisis which plagues schools.

Her first challenge is just days away, when P7 children find out which post-primary school they will attend from September. All grammar schools cancelled entrance tests so Saturday is bound to be anything but straightforward.

Meanwhile, the departing minister Mr Weir shared some thoughts on Twitter.

"I have done my best for all over the last 16 months, and no doubt haven't got everything right. Michelle will pick up the baton and will run with it."

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