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A single education board appears to be a certainty

By Lindsay Fergus

We currently have five (run-down) education and library boards that deliver education services including school meals, transport, employing teachers and the like.

They have been run-down because they were first due to be replaced by the powerful Education and Skills Authority (ESA) in 2008, then in January 2010 and again in December 2013.

However, in May 2014 – eight years on and at a cost of £17m – ESA was shelved by the Education Minister after failing to get political agreement.

That then left John O'Dowd with a quandry as the five education and library boards are aligned to the existing 26 councils, due to be rationalised to 11 in April 2015.

So with the clock ticking, Mr O'Dowd opted to work within existing legislation, the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986 to reduce the five boards to one.

His Plan B is basically a mirror image of the current five boards but without the powers of ESA. The rationalisation will undoubtedly mean more job losses as Mr O'Dowd tries to deliver a more efficient administration. However, it will not be as streamlined as ESA under which the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), the Staff Commission and Youth Council were to be scrapped. ESA would have become the biggest quango in Europe, employing more than 50,000 people.

However, the single board will assume the existing employer rights of the five education and library boards, but CCMS and the voluntary grammar schools will continue to hire and fire for their sectors. It also means the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) will not be given the additional powers the minister had been seeking under ESA.

There are minor issues, namely the establishment of a controlled sector body, to be ironed out but with no plan C, a single education body is more or less a done deal.

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