Belfast Telegraph

Boards to redraft school reports

Education boards have been told to look again at reports on schools which they were asked to carry out last year.

Education Minister John O'Dowd said the work the five boards have done does not fulfil his requirements for clarifying the extent of the future challenges facing schools, so he has asked them to complete and resubmit their reports.

They had been told to carry out the first stage of a viability audit into all 1,200 schools in Northern Ireland. They were to look at the finances, quality and numbers in each school.

Mr O'Dowd said: "While acknowledging the work to date, as submitted, I do not believe it fulfils the requirements set out in the terms of reference.

"It is vital that we have a clear and unambiguous understanding of the extent of the financial and educational challenges facing schools now and in the future so that we can take forward work to plan provision for the future which is sustainable and effective.

"For this reason I have asked the boards to complete and resubmit the audits. I have also asked them to set out proposals on how they plan to address the position in those schools demonstrating the greatest degree of financial stress."

He ordered the audits in September last year and said he was determined to improve the quality of education, even if it meant having to close schools. Mr O'Dowd said there were too many empty places, now up to 85,000. He told the Assembly this equated to more than 150 empty schools.

DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said: "This process to date has done nothing to allay the concerns of principals, teachers, governors and parents, that the real objective was to identify schools for closure. Today's statement by the Education Minister will do nothing to dismiss that view but will only add to the suspicion and concern.

"I have already expressed my view that these audits should not be used as the basis for some hit-list for schools but to inform where there are particular problems as set out in the terms of reference.

"It is disappointing that, yet again, a process initiated by the Department of Education is categorised by confusion. Maybe it is time for an audit of the Department of Education."

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