Belfast Telegraph

State ownership of all schools could slash costs: report

By Michael McHugh

Schools in Northern Ireland could be transferred into common state ownership to cut costs, a report found.

Nearly all the funding to build and run the system already comes from the taxpayer, according to a review for the Integrated Education Fund (IEF).

It said there was a general consensus that Area Based Planning had not worked well.

"Rationalisation could include a study of the feasibility of the transfer of school property into common ownership by the state.

"Apart from revealing any cost benefits from an economic perspective, this could have benefits in terms of removing anomalies between different school sectors and emphasise education as a common public good for the benefit of all," it added.

It said this might include a similar process to the Forum for Pluralism and Patronage in the Republic, where steps have been taken to encourage transferring ownership to the state.

The review was carried out by the Unesco Centre at Ulster University for the IEF late last year.

It analysed legislation, policy and practices within the existing education system where change might lead to better integration.

Education is provided by Catholic, controlled, integrated and other sectors. Integrated caters for 7%.

Schools in Northern Ireland are owned by either the State, the Catholic Church, Protestant churches or school trustees.

The report's first conclusion was there may be a case for more thorough analysis of ownership and financing of the school estate.

In the Republic the forum was established in the primary sector.

However, the Catholic Church has been unwilling to hand over schools to another patron.

The report questioned how much it would cost to roll out shared education, where children from different schools join up for some classes, to every school.

"So far there has been little analysis of how shared education will be mainstreamed after the initial tranches of philanthropic and European funding run out," it said.

In December, Education Minister John O'Dowd introduced the Shared Education Bill into the Assembly. It defines shared education as involving those of different religious belief, including reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Catholic children; and those experiencing socio-economic deprivation and those who are not. The Bill also places a power on the Department and its arms length bodies to encourage and facilitate shared education.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph