Councillor
Peter J. Martin
transparency, accountability and effective representation

Bangor - Councillor Peter J. Martin

Ruane causes ruin in North Down Schools

Monday 14th March 2011

I would like to make the people aware that some of the decisions that Catriona Ruane, the Education Minister, is making are having an effect in our education provision within North Down..

I would like to make the people aware that some of the decisions that Catriona Ruane, the Education Minister, is making are having an effect in our education provision within North Down. Prospective Primary School pupils across North Down are finding it hard to get places in their local primary schools and many have been asked for 4th, 5th and even 6th choices. Many have been asked to consider schools up to 10 miles away. This can be attributed to a number of factors – many are traceable back to the Education Minister. 

Most people are aware that she reduced Prep School funding by a third last year. This has forced many to increase their fees to unsustainable levels and, in the case of Connor House [BGS Prep], it is being forced to close in this academic year. Clearly the lack of joined up thinking from those in power with the Department is evident – the pupils who were attending Connor House have to go somewhere and especially this year [with an unusually high birth rate] it is putting more pressure on the popular schools in the sector. 

Last year, the minister was also embroiled in a row over her proposals to cut the £800 per pupil funding allocated to prep schools – while defending the £3,371 allocated to those much–favoured Irish language schools. I conducted my own analysis from DENI’s figures and discovered an incredible fact, that whilst Irish Language schools account for under 2% of the total schools in Northern Ireland, they account for an astounding 38% of the schools in the Departments Formal Intervention Process which is for schools that have been found by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) ‘to be offering less than satisfactory provision for their pupils’ [DENI]. In plain terms they are [by sector] the worst performing schools in Northern Ireland. We are all aware of the Ministers love for Irish and the Irish speaking schools but the opportunity cost in the incredulous decisions she makes in encouraging this sector we see very clearly in North Down where simply the SEELB does not have the funding to meet parent demand. 

Perhaps people are also not aware that there are massive shortfalls [last year over 1,000] in enrolment numbers in these Irish Language schools – clearly we face the opposite problem in North Down where we need more provision this year in certain sectors and yet the money is being spent elsewhere. 

Another good example of the poor use of funds is the cost of translating documents into Irish; which also the Minister is so keen to promote, has already cost DENI £100,000 [up to 2010] – this could have been better used funding front line teaching services. Everyone is losing here it is not just the controlled sector but the maintained sector also; these poor decisions cross religious and political lines and disadvantage Protestant and Catholic children alike. 

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