Belfast Telegraph

John O'Dowd's proposals for single body to replace five education boards get Executive approval

By Lindsay Fergus

The Education Minister has secured the backing of the Executive for a single education board.

It also paves the way for the creation of a support body for the controlled sector, similar to the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).

It is understood John O'Dowd's plans were passed without issue at yesterday's Executive meeting in Stormont Castle.

Legislation will now be brought forward to create a single body to replace the five existing education and library boards. The Executive also agreed to withdraw its commitment to establish the Education and Skills Authority (ESA), which was due to be operational in 2013.

Mr O'Dowd said: "I now have the Executive's agreement for my department to begin work on legislation to replace the existing five education and library boards (ELBs) with a single body.

"The new body will assume the responsibilities of the ELBs as they currently exist, including employer responsibilities. The proposed Bill will also include a provision for my department to fund a new body to provide support for controlled schools."

Expressing disappointment that ESA had failed to get up and running, Mr O'Dowd added: "This is the best way of providing an education administration that is compatible with the changes to district councils that take full effect on April 1, 2015. It will provide stability in our education system and ensure consistency in services. Further delay will damage the ability of boards to deliver a modern education service."

DUP education spokesman Mervyn Storey welcomed the development as good news for the controlled sector. "For too long it has had a deficit in its representation," he said.

"While the maintained sector has had CCMS since 1986, the controlled sector was dependant on the ELBs to do for them what they could not do, namely be an advocate and voice for controlled schools.

"That wrong at long last has been righted." It is understood the DUP was instrumental in securing a deal that won the confidence of the Transferors, the representatives of the three main Protestant churches. The Church of Ireland, Presbyterians and Methodists welcomed the announcement later in a joint statement.

"It is good that a way forward has been found to place the future of educational administration on a secure footing and to remove the current uncertainty," they said.

However, UUP education spokesman Danny Kinahan said: "We welcome with open arms the controlled sector body but what about the grammar system, integrated school system and Irish-medium sector? Let's see evidence of everyone being treated the same."

WHAT NEXT?

The legislation for the new single education board will now have to be brought before the Assembly. Because of the tight timeframe it will require accelerated passage but politicians will have a chance to scrutinise and amend the Bill. Once passed, the search will get under way for a chief executive and chairman. The new controlled sector body will also require someone to head it up. It will be tasked with raising standards in the controlled sector, among other functions.

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