Education Bill reaches Assembly
Draft legislation to create the much-delayed single educational body in Northern Ireland has finally reached the floor of the Assembly.
The Education and Skills Authority (ESA), which will replace the region's five Education and Library Boards and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, was due to start work at the start of 2010.
The establishment of the streamlined administrative system was held up amid a long-running wrangle between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
After an agreement was finally reached earlier this summer, the all-encompassing authority, which will also absorb the Youth Council and the boards' Staff Commission, is set to be up and running next year.
Legislation will first have to pass through the Assembly - a process which started when the first stage of the Education Bill was tabled. The formal step only took up a few seconds of business, with debates on the issue scheduled for later stages of the Bill's passage.
Afterwards, Education Minister John O'Dowd said: "Today is a significant day in our journey to modernise the administration of education.
"The Education Bill, which began its passage through the Assembly, will see the replacement of a 40-year-old model of administration with one that better meets the needs of the 21st century.
"The Education and Skills Authority will replace eight existing administrative bodies next year and will ensure our education system transforms to meet the needs of our young people and of our economy.
"Over the past 40 years, those working for the Education and Library Boards, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the Youth Council and the Staff Commission for the Education and Library Boards, whether as staff or board members, have shown great commitment to improving the educational experience of learners.
"Their contribution cannot be overestimated. As we continue the drive to raise educational standards, ESA will be able to build on the work of these various bodies. It will do so in a way that will reduce unnecessary expenditure on bureaucracy; will help disseminate good practice in our schools; will facilitate the advancement of shared education; and will ultimately lead to improved educational outcomes for all children."