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New education body stalled: Pledge for single authority by end of year won't be met

By Anna Maguire

A single education body will not meet a Programme for Government commitment to be up and running by the end of the year, the chairman of the Education Committee has warned.

The troubled Education and Skills Authority (ESA) – which had run up a bill of more than £12m by the start of this year – remains stalled by political deadlock.

Talks between Sinn Fein and DUP continue over the shape of the super education authority, which will replace Northern Ireland's current five education and library boards, as well as the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).

At a meeting of the Assembly's Education Committee yesterday, John McGrath, the Department of Education's Deputy Secretary, pointed to "slippage" in the ESA timescale.

"Clearly there will be slippage in the 2013 timescale for ESA," he told the Committee.

The committee's chairman, North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey, has said that the proposed body will fall far short of its December 31 target for implementation, set out in the Programme for Government.

The PfG set out a commitment to "make the Education and Skills Authority operational in 2013".

However, political agreement on the role and powers of the single educational authority appears to be some way off.

The DUP is currently considering a paper from Sinn Fein, which sets out the party's position on a number of issues which are still stumbling blocks to ESA's establishment.

The issues still causing political division include:

  • Independence of the inspectorate, which inspects standards in schools.
  • Who controls the controlled sector, which consists of Northern Ireland's state schools.
  • Issues over Irish medium schools.
  • Issues over shared education.

"That's only some of the issues," Mr Storey told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday.

"No, ESA will not be up and running by December. ESA will only happen whenever it's right – whenever there's an ESA that's workable and then, and only then, will it come into existence."

He added: "There's still issues in relation to the controlled sector and we are still working through the paper sent to us by Sinn Fein over the summer.

"It will take a long period of time to get through that paper and there will be no knee-jerk reaction."

No one from the Department of Education was available for comment last night.

Belfast Telegraph

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