Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: O'Dowd audit must be handled properly

Education Minister John O'Dowd appeared to be bringing some sort of order to the chaos in education last week when he announced that a viability audit would be prepared for every school in the province to see which ones were working best and which had no future.

That is a sensible approach to a sector where the standard of teaching, the resources available, school size and financial stability differ widely from area to area.

But now it appears that one education board has already earmarked three schools for closure for a variety of reasons. Surely this flies in the face of what the minister had promised to do. Apparently the recommendations of the South Eastern Education and Library Board have not yet been formally sent to the Department of Education, which denies all knowledge of the potential closures. This sort of piecemeal approach to education can only cause further disruption and problems for parents and pupils.

Any parent who sees a question mark thrown up against a local school will immediately seek an alternative establishment for their child or children. But, and it is not over-stretching the possibilities, they could then choose another school which could itself be earmarked for closure.

There are already enough problems in education - with around one-quarter of schools already in debt - without allowing more to evolve.

The minister should instruct boards to delay any closure recommendations until the audit of all schools is completed. It is only then that rational decisions can be made. The minister and officials need to know the financial and educational resources of every school - as well as their potential - before deciding if they should be closed or retained.

If Mr O'Dowd is to carry out the kind of radical reform of education we need, he can only do it within a proper strategic framework. Otherwise he runs the risk of making things worse.

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