Belfast Telegraph

Green light given for new body to oversee Northern Ireland education

By Rebecca Black

MLAs have unanimously backed a new bill which will see the biggest shake up to our education system for half a century.

It will see the current five education and library boards plus staff commission amalgmated into one massive body.

Last week, integrated and Irish language schools, controlled and voluntary grammars were each allocated a place on the board.

However, several parties across the chamber expressed regret that these had come at the expense of four places for community representatives.

Eight places have been allocated for political representatives, four for Transferors (Protestant churches) and three for Trustees (Catholic Church).

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew criticised the set-up, saying the larger sectors have the larger say, and therefore will remain the larger sectors, "therefore maintaining our segregated system".

He went on to criticise that it took seven years for the Assembly to agree reforms to the Education system.

"If this was submitted as a transfer test I think this Assembly would not get into a grammar school," he told the Assembly.

Education Minister John O'Dowd accused Mr Agnew of negativity.

He paid tribute to parties working together to agree the make- up of the board after a previous debate at the start of the month saw the DUP submit 11 petitions of concern over proposals.

He said the new bill will provide stability for the education system.

The Education Bill, subject to Royal Assent, will enable the establishment of the new Education Authority (EA) from April 1, 2015.

DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen said it had been a good day for education.

"The Democratic Unionist Party took a lead in shaping this Bill in a number of key areas," she said.

"Whilst other parties dithered, the DUP ensured that both Controlled and Voluntary Grammar Schools would be represented on the new Education Authority."

Mr O'Dowd added: "The onus is now on all of us to establish the Authority and ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible."

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