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Review into Education Authority finds a series of failings and offers 13 recommendations for improvement

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Education Authority chief executive Sara Long

Education Authority chief executive Sara Long

Education Authority chief executive Sara Long

The Education Authority (EA) is struggling to effectively manage the delivery of educational services in Northern Ireland, the first extensive review in its seven-year history has found.

While highlighting that some progress has been made, the Department of Education-commissioned ‘landscape’ review listed a series of failings.

The review found that the EA was “not effective” and limited in its engagement with schools, with the most stinging criticisms coming from head teachers and teaching staff who felt they had been left to work with little guidance or support.

They revealed there was a general sense that “process is more important than supporting a school or principal”.

“Decision-making in the Education Authority can be characterised by ‘Has the process been followed?’,” the review added.

The EA is responsible for spending most of Northern Ireland’s annual £2.3bn education budget, but the report said the body was “probably underfunded”.

It funds around 1,100 schools, employs about 44,000 people and provides services such as school transport, meals, maintenance and support for children with special educational needs.

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“The authority is trying to deliver all its responsibilities with limited resourcing and staffing levels,” the review said.

“Decision-making is seen as cumbersome and a burden, and feedback indicates that the default position of EA is that it appears to be afraid to make a mistake and is consequently risk-averse, passive and not progressing at the pace required to effect radical change in the system.”

“Principals and the wider system identified that many in EA are too removed from operational delivery of education and are therefore too siloed into their own thinking and are, in fact, despite the best will in the world, not child- or pupil-centric,” the review added.

“Aspects of dysfunctional culture include a lack of openness to criticism, defensiveness, looking inwards and not outwards and an acceptance of poor standards, a sense of complacency and a lack of challenge.”

“This is still a work in progress,” the review said, adding that there were signs of more recent change but that it was “slow and not moving at pace”.

EA chief executive Sara Long welcomed the review.

“We acknowledge that there are numerous opportunities for improvement that this report will help to inform,” she said.

“There is a need to improve communications and responsiveness; to better meet the expectations of EA’s many stakeholders; and to continue to make our services more child-centred.

“Seven years on from the formation of the EA, it is the right time to reflect on where we have come from, the challenges faced, the progress made, as well as ensuring we continue to move forward in the next chapter of EA as a confident, child-centred, future-focused organisation that supports schools and delivers the best possible outcomes for all of our children and young people.”

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said too much money had been spent on sectoral and employing bodies and that it could be better spent educating children.

“[The review] has also laid out the EA should be more child-centric. Indeed, the whole education system should concentrate more on outcomes for children, rather than maintaining an overly complicated and sectional school system,” Ms Armstrong said.

SDLP education spokesperson Daniel McCrossan called on the education minister to introduce the review’s 13 recommendations as soon as possible.



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