Belfast Telegraph

Stormont impasse ‘now stalling education strategies’

Unique challenges: Derek Baker
Unique challenges: Derek Baker

By Gillian Halliday

A series of education policies cannot be implemented because of the Stormont stalemate, a top civil servant has warned.

They include new strategies for childcare, children and young people, and looked-after children.

Derek Baker, permanent secretary at the Department of Education, referred to the impact of the political impasse in the department's 2018/19 accounts.

He said the education strategies had effectively stalled as there is no minister to sign off the policies in the absence of the Executive.

The absence of an Education Minister has also meant that a series of public appointments have been unable to be made, although this has been mitigated by a clarification of civil servants' powers by Westminster.

Posts, described as "critical appointments", which remain unfilled are for the non-departmental bodies Youth Council for NI (YCNI) and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA). Mr Baker stated: "In the case of CCEA, this has placed increasing pressure on the remaining board members, while the YCNI no longer has a board from April 1, 2019 to effect its statutory advisory functions."

The report also concluded the past financial year continued to "present a range of unique and significant challenges" for the Department of Education - a situation compounded by the absence of the Assembly.

Meanwhile, the department spent almost £2.2bn in resource and capital in 2018-19, which is in line to its 2017-18 costs, although around £40m less went directly to schools this year, bringing the figure to £1.15bn compared to two financial years ago.

The Education Authority received £629m to provide services to schools - including transport, meals and maintenance - and support for children with special educational needs.

He also warned there is currently insufficient funding to allow more shared campus schemes to progress amid a growing department budget overspend of £15m, according to the latest accounts.

This follows overspends in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

While five shared education campuses had previously been approved, the scheme to build more has also stalled due to "insufficient Fresh Start Agreement funding to take these projects forward", he noted.

Mr Baker also referred to concern over the ongoing impact of industrial action undertaken by teaching unions, saying that it had "disrupted the normal operation" of schools and had reduced the number of school inspections.

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