Belfast Telegraph

Review 'to name failing schools'

A list of failing schools is to be identified within months, and some could face closure, as part of a major bid to drive up education standards, Stormont sources have said.

Education Minister John O'Dowd has remained tight-lipped on the blueprint for the future of his sector, which he is set to unveil in a major speech to the Assembly on Monday.

But it is understood the minister's address will herald efforts to tackle a range of inter-linked issues including educational under-achievement, falling pupil numbers, plus plans to encourage state and Catholic-maintained schools to co-operate or even amalgamate.

Schools seeking new builds will also have to meet criteria set down for developing an education network that meets the needs of local areas and is capable of providing high-level education into the future.

The department lost a total of £700 million from its overall budget for the next four years as a result of Westminster cuts to the block grant, but it is understood that the changes set to be implemented are aimed at tackling long-standing problems in education, which pre-date the current economic crisis.

Experts have noted that while the figure for the number of empty school desks in Northern Ireland was put at about 50,000, it is now believed to have risen to 85,000.

In addition, educationalists are concerned that about 4,000 pupils leave the school system each year without reaching the benchmark of five good GCSE qualifications.

A further issue is the growing problem of school deficits, with concerns that by 2014 schools could have accumulated deficits of up to £100million.

The minister is expected to detail what he believes are the necessary steps to improving the school system, building on existing programmes which include the Every School A Good School policy.

Schools that are failing pupils are expected to be identified under a swift review likely to be concluded within months of the minister's announcement. Those schools deemed unviable at the end of the subsequent process, and found to be failing pupils, risk closure.

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