01 February 2006

Hain signals changes to North’s education system

Daily Ireland

By Jarlath Kearney

Major changes to the North’s education system were announced by direct-rule secretary of state Peter Hain yesterday.
During a major speech about future political and social developments in the North, Mr Hain said changes to the education system would take place.
A major focus will be on the development of students from the age of 14.
“We will continue to increase spending on public services in Northern Ireland each and every year, but we must be prepared to abandon established and entrenched spending programmes whose value has diminished with the passage of time,” Mr Hain said.
With the 11-plus exam scheduled to be phased out by 2008, all students will undertake a comprehensive education between the ages of 11 and 14.
Announcing an independent review of the education system, Mr Hain declared that the North’s new single education authority would be a given a strategic role in relation to the education of students between 14 and 19-years-old. He said: “That means an entire re-orientation of the education system around the critical age of 14 and the key life decisions young people must make at that age about their future careers.
“We need to see whether a new model of schooling, sharing across sectors, could help us achieve higher standards, better facilities and a better use of resources,” Mr Hain said.
Calling for action rather than words, DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the British government should now stop funding new schools, such as gaelscoileanna. “It [the government] encouraged Irish-medium schools and integrated schools, creating even more layers of providers. Hopefully, the secretary of state’s rhetoric will now be matched with actions,” Mr Wilson said.
“It is utter madness to be creating new schools and school places when there is not the new pupil numbers to fill them, especially when there are already spaces within the existing schools,” Mr Wilson said.
Sinn Féin education spokesperson Michael Ferguson insisted that the education reforms will have to bring about meaningful changes.
“We need our own local assembly and a local accountable minister to deliver a real budget to support education and learning. “Falling rolls should allow us the opportunity provide better teacher pupil ratios but instead, while pupil numbers are falling, class room sizes are rising. Falling rolls should allow us to better integrate special needs children into mainstream education as required under the new legislation but instead we have one class in Poleglass with 30 children and 19 of them have special needs,” he said.

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