Since taking on the role of Minister for Education, I have visited schools in each and every sector of education provision.
The common factor I have observed has been the clear need for considerable investment in infrastructure, with many of these schools working to deliver a quality education in accommodation that is not fit for purpose.
I would like to be in a position to fund everything that needs doing now, but like other colleagues on the Executive, I must work within the budget I have available.
The need for capital investment far exceeds the funding available, which means difficult decisions on future investment plans.
Yesterday I announced investment in our schools estate totalling £173m. My announcement included 13 new-build primary and post-primary school projects and new accommodation at five special schools.
My announcement will significantly improve the educational environment at these schools and ensure that pupils and teachers will have modern, safe facilities which support the delivery of the curriculum.
The last major capital announcement in the education sector took place in 2010, when 13 major capital projects were approved.
The investment of £173m will also be welcome news for our hard-pressed construction industry and will help create and secure jobs in this sector.
I realise that there will be many schools across the north that will be disappointed today. Unfortunately, the budget settlement the Executive was presented with by the British Government has limited the funding I have available and has prevented me from progressing all the schemes I would have liked.
I did highlight yesterday, however, that projects not announced for progression at this stage may still come forward in the future.
In my statement last September, Putting Pupils First: Shaping our Future, I set out a programme of actions aimed at improving the quality of education. One of the actions was the formulation of area plans which will shape the future pattern of education delivery across the north and will be based primarily on the needs of children and young people.
The area plans for post-primary schools are nearing completion and I have authorised the education and library boards to publish these plans for consultation next week.
Consultation will run until the end of October and will allow communities time to consider and reflect on the proposals.
I also expect the plans for primary and special school provision to be published in the months ahead.
Once finalised, the plans will map out the shape of the schools estate of the future and will form the basis for future capital building priorities. Therefore, I want to stress again that many schools currently in need of new facilities will have the opportunity to be considered for capital funding at a later stage.
I referred to the reduced capital budget available to me as a result of British Government cuts and that has prevented me from announcing a higher number of projects.
I am aware of the issues affecting some schools and that is why I also announced the creation of a school enhancement programme.
The programme, which will make at least £20m available next year and at least another £20m the year after, will enable schools to apply for funding to refurbish, or extend, their premises.
It will prioritise projects aimed at supporting amalgamation, or rationalisation, and will be a more accessible option for many schools.
Yesterday’s announcement was good news for many. It is investment aimed at supporting teachers and pupils in our schools; but above all, it is investment in our children and in their future.
I hope, in the months ahead, to be able to announce additional projects that can be brought forward through the planning process.
John O’Dowd MLA is Minister for Education