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Make-up of the new Education Authority is criticised

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The Shared Education Bill, launched for consultation by Education Minister John O'Dowd yesterday, will for the first time see his department face a legal obligation to encourage, facilitate and promote shared education

The Shared Education Bill, launched for consultation by Education Minister John O'Dowd yesterday, will for the first time see his department face a legal obligation to encourage, facilitate and promote shared education

The Shared Education Bill, launched for consultation by Education Minister John O'Dowd yesterday, will for the first time see his department face a legal obligation to encourage, facilitate and promote shared education

There was consternation at Stormont that not all types of schools are set to be represented on the board of the new Education Authority.

MLAs consented to the accelerated passage of the Education Bill through the Assembly yesterday, as they raised questions about the new legislation.

If passed, the new laws will see Northern Ireland's five education and library boards merged into one administrative body called the Education Authority.

The move comes after seven years of bitter disagreement over the failed Education Skills Authority (ESA).

Education Minister John O'Dowd said the new structures needed to be in place by next April or the existing five will be on uncertain legal ground.

"It's a matter of urgency and necessity to meet a very tight timescale," he told the Assembly, describing the six clause bill as "the minimal legislation required to form a single board".

But Assembly yesterday queried why a number of education sectors were not to be represented on the board of the new body.

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Under the proposals there will be a chairman, four Transferers (Protestant church representatives), three Trustees (Catholic church representatives), eight political members elected according to party strength in the Assembly, and four community members.

Chair of the Education Committee Michelle McIlveen (DUP) said it was "bizarre" that the voluntary grammar sector had not been given a place at the table.

She pointed out that voluntary grammar schools represented 32.9% of post primary children here. Miss McIlveen welcomed the bill generally, especially the new body for controlled sector schools, as a "chance to put right a grave injustice suffered by the controlled sector".

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn queried why the integrated and Irish-medium sector had not been assigned places.

"Between them, the Irish-medium and integrated represent a fair percentage and a growing percentage of the school population," he said. "We will be putting forward measures to tinker with the membership."

Mr O'Dowd said that he was open to persuasion on the issues, but said it shouldn't be amended "out of existence", describing the bill as "finely balanced".


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