Belfast Telegraph

Stormont Executive agrees on long-awaited single education board for Northern Ireland

By John Mulgrew

Education Minister John O'Dowd has said agreement has finally been reached on a single education board from Northern Ireland.

The Executive has given the green light for a long-awaited solution to replace the existing five boards.

But the new board single board is Education Minister's 'plan B' after failing to get backing for the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) that has been shelved after eight years.

The announcement comes after the Education Minister warned his colleagues time was running out for them to sign off on a single education board to replace the current boards which are due to dissolve early next year.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, he warned Northern Ireland would not have the proper administration in place until there was agreement from his fellow ministers in the Executive.

John O'Dowd, has outlined his Plan B – a single education board – after failing to get unionist backing for the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) that has been shelved after eight years.

Speaking after the Executive meeting Mr O'Dowd said "had it been possible to secure agreement on the Education Bill" - which failed to get unionist backing - a system would have been in place for April next year.

"However, despite my best efforts, that agreement was not forthcoming. In these circumstances the Executive has agreed to withdraw its current commitment to establish ESA," he 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."

DUP education spokesman Mervyn Storey welcomed the progress made.

"The draft Education Bills which came before the Assembly in recent years caused much debate and widespread concerns were expressed about various aspects of the Bill," he said.

"The DUP ensured that all those issues of concern were listened to and appropriate action taken.

"The Minister was forced not to proceed with the Bills as intended but instead proposed to pursue an amalgamation of the five education and library boards into one body.

"Whilst this was a more acceptable way forward and something which my party advocated from the outset, the issue of a sectoral body for the controlled sector remained outstanding."

Background

In April 2015, as part of the local government reform, previously known as the Review of Public Administration, the number of councils in Northern Ireland will decrease from 26 to 11 and there will also be a restructuring of health and education authorities. The Education and Skills Authority (ESA) was due to replace the five education and library boards. However, it failed to get political agreement.

 

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