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Boost for parents as performance of every school to be audited annually

By Lindsay Fergus

Parents will have access to more information than ever before after the Education Minister announced every school will be audited on an annual basis.

From April, the five education and library boards will publish information on every school's finances, enrolment figures and educational performance.

The data will help parents, particularly those with children in pre-school or Year 7, make informed choices about the best school for their child.

A school's finances, enrolment and performance are important indicators for a viable school.

Department of Education criteria describes a school's enrolment as sustainable if it is a rural primary and has more than 105 pupils, an urban primary with more than 140 pupils, a post-primary with more than 500 in Years 8 to 12 and 100 pupils in Years 13 and 14. Its financial deficit should not be greater than 5%.

The information will build on the viability audits that were published in February last year.

Minister John O'Dowd said: "This information will be designed to give the public a clear picture of the shape of education provision in their area."

It was just one of several announcements Mr O'Dowd made as he updated the Assembly on Tuesday on the next steps for Northern Ireland's education system.

He also revealed that the primary area plans outlining the future for more than 800 schools will be made public on March 19.

Local communities, parents and schools will have until the end of June to respond.

According to the viability audits, 390 primary schools out of a total of 839 (46.5%) were evidencing stress in at least one category.

Mr O'Dowd said: "My intention is that dialogue at local level, taking on board the lessons learned in post-primary process, will result in more practical and sustainable solutions."

Mr O'Dowd was critical of Belfast Education and Library Board and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).

He said: "An area planning solution to west Belfast remains elusive. I find this unacceptable. CCMS and the Catholic Commission need to bring forward definitive plans."

All boards must now:

• Further develop a single approach to area planning.

• Introduce a mechanism to allow engagement between all sectors to ensure each has the opportunity to influence proposals.

• Develop an action plan to deal with the specific priority area and to address gaps in the area plans.

In Lurgan there are firm proposals for the amalgamation of St Michael's Grammar, St Mary's High and St Paul's Junior High schools.

In Enniskillen a new replacement grammar school for Portora Royal and Collegiate Grammar will be going ahead on Portora's site, and investment in the Lisanelly shared campus in Omagh will be prioritised.

Story so far

Radical area plans to overhaul the schools estate were announced earlier this week. The plans detail proposals to reduce the 85,000 empty desks in our schools. The wide-ranging proposals include school closures, amalgamations and so-called 'super schools' with more than 1,000 pupils. Parent power has given integrated schools a major boost after education bosses were forced to abandon plans to downgrade the sector.

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