Belfast Telegraph

Minister outlines schools overhaul

The education sector faces a major overhaul to tackle issues including the number of empty desks, revealed to be the equivalent of 150 schools.

Failing schools will be identified within three months and could face closure under a raft of measures unveiled at the Assembly by Education Minister John O'Dowd.

He listed initiatives he said were aimed at driving up standards, tackling the 85,000 empty school desks and encouraging co-operation between State and Catholic schools.

After his budget was cut by £700 million, the minister said plans to build schools would be tested against new criteria around enrolment figures and the standard of education on offer.

While unionists sought assurances that all sectors would be treated fairly in any closures, the minister also clashed with the SDLP's Conall McDevitt over his claims that 380 schools closures were possible.

Mr O'Dowd denied the figure, but said he would make no apologies for closing schools which it was found were failing their pupils.

"We have too many schools that do not have the capacity to give children the broad and rich educational experience they deserve," Mr O'Dowd said.

"A third of our 863 primary schools have fewer than 100 children enrolled and a fifth of our 217 post-primary schools have fewer than 400 pupils.

"However sustainable schools are not simply a numbers game. Schools will be measured against the six principles of the Sustainable Schools policy."

Schools will be expected to show a good quality of education, have stable enrolment, be in a sound financial situation, have strong leadership, while accessibility and strong links to the local community will also be sought.

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