Belfast Telegraph

Education Minister responds to comments on consultation costs

Stormont Executive press release - Department of Education

Education Minister, John O'Dowd MLA, has clarified his Department’s position in relation to expenditure on public consultation.

The Minister was speaking following comments by Jonathan Craig MLA and Conall McDevitt MLA who suggested that the Department of Education was prioritising the Irish language at the expense of literacy and numeracy. Their comments were based on the amount of money spent on public consultation in these areas.

The Minister said: “Public consultation is an important element, and in many instances a legal requirement, in developing policy and legislation. It provides interested parties, stakeholders and the general public with an opportunity to put forward their views, which are taken on board before any final decisions are made.

“It is not helpful to make comparisons on the costs of different consultations as they are not all alike. The Equality Commission has set out guiding principles for consultation.

"This guidance outlines that consideration must be given to which method is most appropriate in the circumstances. Consideration should be given to whether face-to-face meetings, small-group meetings, focus groups, discussion papers with the opportunity to comment in writing, questionnaires, or internet discussions are best. Consideration should also be given to the accessibility of the language and the format of information must be considered to ensure that there are no barriers to the consultation process.

“I make no apologies for my Department following appropriate guidance and taking the correct steps in each individual case to ensure that people are given the chance to put forward their views.

“Are Mr Craig and Mr McDevitt suggesting that my Department should neglect its statutory duty in this regard? Rather than nit-picking over the cost of consultations they should welcome the fact that key stakeholders, elected representatives, and indeed their constituents, are afforded the opportunity to respond to key changes being proposed for education here.”

The Minister continued: “It is also disingenuous of Mr Craig and Mr McDevitt to use the cost of consultations as an indication of Departmental priorities. According to their flawed logic I am not focusing enough on literacy and numeracy.

“The reality is that there has been significant emphasis and investment in raising standards of literacy and numeracy. This includes the publication of Count, Read: Succeed, the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy; the launch of the Education Works advertising campaign that aims to encourage parents to get involved in their child’s education; and the planned recruitment of almost 300 teachers on fixed term contracts to specifically deliver tuition to children who are struggling to achieve expected levels in literacy and numeracy. The investment allocated to that Signature Project alone from both OFMDFM and the Department of Education currently stands at £14million.

“I have also put in place a number of complementary projects to improve levels of literacy and numeracy in schools. These include a £4 million project to provide whole school training in literacy and specialist training in dyslexia for at least one teacher in every primary school over a 3 year period; £1.5 million to Area Learning Communities to provide additional literacy and numeracy support at GCSE level; and a Community Education Initiatives Programme that will provide funding of £4million over two years to develop the important link between schools, parents and the local community.

“Also in development is a £2million literacy and numeracy project for Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 2 teachers of English and maths over two years. In addition, the Education and Training Inspectorate are being funded to develop a support programme for GCSE English and maths.

“These are just some examples of the work that is ongoing to raise educational standards and I believe this is a clear indication of the priority I and my Department place on the importance of improving standards of literacy and numeracy.”

Notes to editors:

1. The Department of Education’s ‘Education Works’ campaign encourages families to play, talk, read and count with their child and to ‘Get Involved Because Education Works’. The campaign highlights the vital role families can play in helping children do well at school and improve their life chances. Visit http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/education-works for more information. Watch the TV ad on the Department’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/thedeptofeducation
2. See photos from the Department of Education in our collection at http://www.flickr.com/niexecutive

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