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Voluntary schools won’t give up the right to hire staff

By Lindsay Fergus

Every voluntary grammar school in Northern Ireland wants to remain independent of the planned new education super-authority, the ESA.

A survey of all 52 voluntary grammar schools here found that 97.4% want to retain their powers to hire their own staff and 100% want to keep their voluntary ethos.

However, that independence is under threat from the new Education Skills Authority, which is set to become the sole employing authority of all staff, including teachers, from next April.

Voluntary grammar schools, which educate a third of all Northern Ireland’s post-primary pupils, will today take those concerns to the highest level of government.

Representatives from the Governing Bodies Association (GBA) and Catholic Heads Association are to hold talks with First Minister Peter Robinson as the final discussions on setting up the ESA are understood to be nearing conclusion.

When the legislation is |approved by the Assembly, |the ESA will replace the five education and library boards, the Council For Catholic Maintained Schools, Youth Council and Staff Commission, and will be responsible for management and service delivery.

According to the survey carried out by the GBA, nearly every voluntary grammar (97.4%) said it did not want the ESA to assume powers of employment over their staff. Just 2.6% were undecided and none wanted the ESA to become the employer.

Not one school said it would have confidence in the ESA implementing the school’s wishes.

One principal said the voluntary grammar’s power of employment “gives it the capacity to |reach effective decisions that |are made in the best interests |of the pupils as well as the efficient management of the school. |Thus have voluntary schools |given a best value for money return on public funds invested”.

No voluntary grammar school is in the red nor is projected to go into deficit by 2013/14, according to recent viability audits.

Another head commented: “It is also proven to be the most cost-efficient way to manage a school – being demonstrated by the movement towards free or academy schools in England and Wales, almost completely mirroring voluntary status.”

A senior manager said voluntary grammars had the ability to get jobs done efficiently and without undue delay, such as painting or buying equipment, as their hands are not tied by the same procurement rules as the education boards.

The GBA confirmed that it had carried out a survey, the results of which had been provided to politicians. However, it said it would be inappropriate to make further comment ahead of today’s meeting.

Factfile

A voluntary grammar is a post-primary school that is independently managed by a board of governors.

They can be Catholic or non-denominational, single-sex schools or co-educational.

A key feature of the grammars is that staff are directly employed by schools rather than by education boards or the CCMS.

This means that a large proportion of their funding is delegated to school level.

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