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Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 16 January 2001 (continued)

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Will you bring your remarks to a close.

Mr O'Connor:

I am almost finished.

Dr Hendron spoke about nurses and mentioned Dr Khan, whose case has been well rehearsed.

Dr Byrne touched on one of the most relevant issues, which is the need to give hope to those who do not seem to have any optimism and who lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. He also mentioned training schools for nurses, which, in the past, were part of hospitals rather than universities. In the past, there were state enrolled nurses (SEN) and state registered nurses (SRN) - this seemed to work well. But now we have a shortage of nurses. There is no reason for SRNs not going to university or for SENs not taking part in nurse training programmes.

I welcome the Minister's announcement of special attention for adult learners and additional money from the Executive programme funds to address some of the problems mentioned this morning.

I thank Members for their attentiveness and you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your patience with me.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment to take immediate steps to address the problem of skill shortage in Northern Ireland, particularly in the field of health and social services.

The sitting was suspended at 12.47 pm.

On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair) -

2.00 pm

The Minister of Education (Mr M McGuinness): A Cheann Comhairle, should we send a search party for the Member who is to move the motion?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I do apologise.

Mr M McGuinness:

It is not exactly the Rottweiler snapping at the heels of the Minister. Silence is golden. I am worried about Mr Wilson.

Mrs E Bell:

There is no show without Punch.

Mr M McGuinness:

I am very concerned about him.

Mrs E Bell:

I rushed back here.

Mr McElduff:

I know. I did not want to miss anything either. It is most unusual.

Mr M McGuinness:

We need ten for a quorum.

Mr Tierney:

Mr Deputy Speaker, what is the procedure now?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

This is highly discourteous. It is the first time in the two years of the Assembly's life that this has happened. Since Mr Wilson, who is to move the motion, is not here, I will suspend the sitting.

The sitting was suspended at 2.05 pm and resumed at 2.18 pm (Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair)

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I am sorry for the delay. If I had called the motion in the absence of the Member who is to move it, it would have fallen at once, and that would have meant the cancellation of all this afternoon's business.

Mr C Murphy:

On a point of order, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Mr S Wilson has treated the House with contempt by not being here at the appointed time. The Business Committee allocated two hours for the debate to be followed by a debate on the homeless, which has also been allocated two hours, and the Adjournment. Can you rule on whether Mr Wilson's motion, given that he did not have the decency to be here to move it when he should have been, will get the full two hours? Will the other debates go ahead as scheduled on the timetable?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I have a great deal of sympathy for your point, Mr Murphy. I hope the debate can be concluded at the scheduled time. I will decide if I can extend it closer to the time.

Mr J Kelly:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In doing that, are we setting a precedent for further occurrences like this when a Member is late? Are we to have a laissez-faire attitude to those who do not turn up on time to move motions in their name? Are we setting a precedent?

Mr P Robinson:

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Was the precedent not set when a Sinn Féin/IRA Minister did not bother to come to the Assembly in time? These people did not get up to whinge then.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Surely we would all like to proceed with the business. The decision on whether a precedent is being set can await further study by the relevant Committee.

Mr Tierney:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The business was suspended on the day mentioned by Mr P Robinson. The SDLP would favour suspending the business completely on this occasion given what has happened. You say that we can go ahead because the business was not called earlier. I am tempted to propose that business be suspended, albeit that I have not heard the reason for the delay. If the reason is good enough, I will be prepared to accept it. I know that, on returning, we were in favour of suspension. However, I am prepared to wait and hear the reason or excuse for the delay.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I will now make the resumed sitting legal by asking the Clerk to read the motion.

Mr J Kelly:

On a further point of order, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I ask again if we are setting a precedent.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The answer is no.

Schools: Capital Spending

Schools: Capital Spending

Mr S Wilson:

I beg to move

That this Assembly calls upon the Minister of Education to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of the capital spending budget between the various school systems in Northern Ireland.

First, Mr Deputy Speaker, I apologise to you and to the House for not being present at the appointed time to move the motion. I accept that it was my responsibility to be here then. Unfortunately, because of engagements in another capacity and traffic delays, which I had not anticipated, I arrived here three or four minutes late. I do not blame any particular Minister for that. I did not come by public transport. Nevertheless, the state of the roads and the traffic congestion in Belfast are such that the House needs to address the problem, and I hope that it will do so.

I can understand why Sinn Féin, one of whose Ministers had the misfortune of not turning up here on time for a debate, would wish to have the issue pushed aside. The reason I asked for -

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The motion has been called. You are the proposer, and you have not yet referred to it. Will you kindly get on with the debate.

Mr S Wilson:

Had I not apologised I would have been accused of treating the House with contempt. I wanted to spend a moment or two doing that.

The motion is timely because the Minister of Education will, in the next three or four weeks, be making an announcement on capital spending for schools. It will be his second opportunity to allocate substantial sums of money - £72 million last year and £93 million in this year's budget for capital spending. In certain parties of the Assembly, and outside among the general public, there was great disquiet last year when the schools capital programme was announced. Comments were made in the House. The Minister had been informed by members of the Education Committee that they expected fairness, and after the announcement, and especially in the sector of the school system that caters for the Protestant section of the population, there was great anger at the blatant and raw sectarian way in which the Minister had allocated his spending.

Of course, it was presented with all the spin that one expects in modern politics. The Minister talked about the great boost from the largest ever amount of money for the capital building programme, across all sectors, primary, secondary, grammar, special, integrated, and to all the different education providers.

Then one looked at the £72 million and at how it was to be allocated to the different sectors. Even at an initial glance, the figures gave cause for concern: £27·7 million of the £72 million was for the controlled sector, the sector that caters mostly for the Protestant population. For the sector that caters mostly for the Roman Catholic population, there was £40·3 million- an imbalance of 55% to 38%.

That was bad enough. However, when one took away the Minister's flannel and fancy accounting footwork, there was the startling picture of an imbalance of three to one against the sector that caters for the Protestant population: the Minister included in his announcement £6·7 million for Regent House Grammar School in Newtownards in spite of the fact that on 11 May 1998 the then Education Minister, Mr Worthington, had already announced that £6·7 million would be spent on Regent House. So, to pad the figures out, the Minister announced something again that had been said more than a year before.

If that was not enough, we then had the matter of Antrim Grammar School- oddly enough, this was the only such instance of this - where £7·7 million was to be spent. But one had to read the small print of the Minister's statement to find that he never intended to spend that money. The project was to be started when money became available, and it was not anticipated that it would become available in the financial year for which the announcement was made, and, indeed, it did not. When that total of £14·4 million was deducted, the amount of money left for the education sector that caters for the Protestant population was only £13·3 million. The ratio was three to one.

2.30 pm

Of course, it could be argued - and this would have been a reasonable defence - that the spending was meant to reflect not the balance of pupils but the projects that had been suggested or the state of the schools in each sector. No one would have found that unfair. I do not care if money is spent on a school that caters mainly for Catholics or on one that caters mainly for Protestants if it can be justified by the fact that one sector is well provided for and the state of its school buildings is fine while pupils in the other sector are being taught in sub-standard conditions. No one would object to that.

However, when one looks at the figures upon which the Minister based his decision - the new starts which it was possible to announce - one sees no such imbalance. Over the six years for which I could obtain figures, the number of schools that required money spent on them, whether they catered mainly for Catholics or mainly for Protestants, was roughly even. There may have been a slight difference in favour of schools catering mainly for Catholics, but it was only one or two percentage points. Therefore it cannot be argued that this was based on the state of buildings in the various sectors.

I will not dig up the Minister's past record because time is short - which is partly my fault. However, we have a Minister who has been on record at least five times discussing the discrimination against Nationalists and Republicans which he believes occurred in the past. I believe that there is only one interpretation possible from the figures available on the one capital-spending decision that he has made. Whatever perceptions and grievances he and his party hold, he is abusing his position as Minister. He is taking money which should be allocated fairly and skewing it towards one side of the community, and no amount of fancy financial rope-trickery will hide that blatant imbalance.

One of the reasons for moving the motion before any decision is made is to enable me to use the Assembly to put down a marker for the Minister that this must not continue. With the Education Committee, Mr Kennedy and others, I have listened to pleas from schools in the maintained, controlled, voluntary, special and integrated sectors that people are being educated in poor conditions right across the board - no sector has a monopoly. The Minister must not be allowed to spend public money, allocated in good faith by the Assembly, in a way that is biased towards one sector. The facts are here, and no doubt the Minister will treat them in a cavalier manner, as he has in the past. Facts do not seem important to him, but the Assembly cannot ignore them, and it is important that the marker be set.

I could refer to individual schools, but I do not want to do so. The Education Committee has been careful not to lobby on behalf of individual schools, and we have told representatives, who have presented their cases to us, that we want to get a general picture of the state of school buildings. I am not lobbying on behalf of schools in my constituency - this is not a plea on their part. I am, however, saying that money should be allocated fairly.

The budget for the Department of Education should not be used in a cavalier manner by a Minister with a narrow, political, sectarian agenda. The confines of the debate do not allow me to refer to other ways in which preference has been shown to those who fit into the Minister's agenda. The figures speak for themselves. They are on public record and available in the Library and in Education Committee papers.

It is an important matter. We need more capital spending to improve the stock of schools, and many of us who have heard reports on and seen pictures of some of the buildings in which children are being educated have been appalled. Extensive capital spending on schools is needed, but it must be done in an equitable manner and not to redress imbalances that the Minister perceives to exist. He even believes his propaganda that only one section of the population suffers from disadvantage.

We are aware of how unaccountable Ministers can be, taking decisions that are at odds with the Committees appointed to scrutinise them and at odds with the view of the majority of Members.The imbalance in capital spending this year may be exactly the same. Given his record, that is likely to be so. But let the Assembly say on that matter of concern that it expects the Minister to live up to his pledge to deal with these issues fairly. Many would disregard the word of the Minister because he has broken it on so many occasions, but we should at least hold him accountable.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

In view of the importance of the subject, I will allow the debate to continue for two hours, in spite of the small problem at the beginning. The Minister will have 20 minutes for his winding-up speech, and Mr Wilson will have 10 minutes for his. Other Members who wish to speak will have eight minutes.

The Chairperson of the Education Committee (Mr Kennedy):

I am grateful for the opportunity for this important debate and accept Mr Wilson's contrite apology.

I will address the Assembly as Chairperson of the Education Committee and as the Ulster Unionist spokesperson on education. I will attempt to keep within the time constraints.

The Education Committee is concerned about the condition of the school estate. The Committee has received from parents' action groups, teachers, principals and student bodies numerous representations on the dreadful condition of many schools in the primary and non-primary sectors. The problems that we face concern outdated and inappropriate accommodation that does not meet modern educational needs and a lack of space. A large number of school buildings are crumbling. They have rotting window frames, inadequate fire exits and fire door protection and electrical faults. These are health and safety matters that illustrate the urgent need for a substantial increase in the funds for major capital projects.

A recent Department of Education general inspection report indicated that in one primary school deficiencies in school buildings are having a serious detrimental effect on children's learning. Almost every Member will have seen the appalling conditions that exist. Such conditions are bound to have an effect on student and teacher morale and, therefore, a serious impact on education itself. The Education Committee finds the situation unacceptable and would like it to be addressed immediately.

Over the years, capital projects have been seriously neglected and underfunded, and urgent action needs to be taken. The Committee believes that investment in the capital building programme must be a high priority for the Executive and the Assembly. It would eliminate the major deficiencies and help to provide a modern and appropriate learning environment for children in the twenty-first century here.

The Education Committee will be meeting the Minister and his officials next week to review the capital programme for the incoming year. Undoubtedly, a number of high priority cases will be competing for places and, with limited resources available, hard decisions will have to be made.

It is imperative that equality and fairness be evident in the allocations that we make. To assist the process the Education Committee believes that the criteria used in making capital spending decisions should be widely known and understood and that they should be clear, open and transparent.

The Committee received a range of views from education boards officials during its investigations. However, it is not totally clear on the method used for the final allocation of capital building money. A comprehensive and cohesive strategy is needed to address the appalling situation.

2.45 pm

As the Ulster Unionist spokesperson on education I want to express profound concern at the apparent imbalance in capital funding allocated to the controlled school sector in recent years. An analysis of the last five years highlights a marked disparity between the controlled and maintained sectors. That is totally unacceptable and must be addressed.

I welcome the fact that the Minister is here today. His recent announcement on Strabane seems to pre-empt the review of the transfer procedure and the capital building programme. Apparently an announcement affecting education in Strabane has been made but has not yet been funded. When a Minister tells the people of Strabane, or anywhere else, that they are to get a new school that will involve capital expenditure, the money should be available for that. It seems improper for the Minister to have made that announcement short of consultation with the area boards and the Education Committee. I hope that he will address that when he speaks later.

There is an urgent need for capital funding in all sectors. Consideration must be given in each to the allocation of funding on an equitable basis. Given the Minister's political background, it is incumbent upon him to ensure that the controlled sector does not perceive itself to be undervalued or underfunded.

Ms Lewsley:

A number of issues to do with the allocation of capital funding need to be addressed, one of which is the categorising of schools that apply for capital funding. Schools are put into three categories, and those in category one receive priority. However, the majority of schools are in category two.

One of the criteria used by the Department when deciding which schools get capital funding concerns matters such as mobile classrooms. The Minister may give priority to schools whose classrooms have been destroyed or damaged by vandalism or whatever. As Sammy Wilson said, many of us can pick out schools in our constituencies that should get priority, but some schools were vandalised 25 years ago, and it has not been possible to use that accommodation since. Such schools have been housed in mobile classrooms for 25 years. Why were they not prioritised? Why did they have to wait until last year to get capital funding?

Some children are being educated in schools that are over 130 years old. Are those schools not priority cases? We talk about best practice and value for money, but these cannot be achieved with heating or maintenance in a building that is over 130 years old.

We need to ensure that social disadvantage is addressed and that targeting social need resources are directed towards schools most in need of capital. Unlike other Members, I regard it as well known that conditions in a large number of Catholic schools have been allowed to deteriorate dreadfully, with a high dependence on temporary mobile classrooms. Clearly, there needs to be equity in the system.

In the interests of the equity that has been talked about today, we cannot just advocate a 50:50 split for funding. We need a proportionate allocation that reflects the state of schools, the health and safety of children and social disadvantage. We need an open and transparent system to assess educational needs and target genuine need. I ask the Minister if his Department has adequately assessed need and the schools estate. Does his Department have a benchmark for capital expenditure? How effective is the private finance initiative? Does it deliver what it is meant to and give value for money?

As I have said often, there is not enough funding, particularly for children with special needs. With the development of the local management of schools, specialised posts have disappeared, and special needs are being dealt with in the classrooms. Funding is only available for statemented children.

How much reasonable adjustment has been made in the Budget to increase accessibility? If mobile classrooms are in use in a school, are they accessible to children with disabilities? I am not just talking about access through the front door of a school, but about access to all of a building and its facilities.

There is a great need for strategic planning with all partners in education, because many of them are practitioners in the field. Who is better placed to give an opinion? There also needs to be an acceleration of the process of agreeing options, schedules of accommodation and economic appraisals.

Finally, I mention the Government's policy on rural proofing. I hope that the Minister can assure us that he will use that policy when he is making his final decisions. It is the responsibility of everyone in the Chamber to strive for an equitable education system that is accessible to every child.

I support the motion.

Mr McElduff:

Cuirim fáilte roimh an rún seo, agus de réir mo bharúla is ábhar fíorthábhach é ar fad. Ba mhaith liom rud amháin a chur san áireamh, agus is é an fhírinne nach raibh rudaí cothrom sa tsochaí ó thaobh cúrsaí oideachais de. Is é mo bharúil go dtosaíonn an turas chun na cothromaíochta sa lá inniu.

I welcome the motion. It helps the Assembly to concentrate on the important matter of the Education Department's school building programme. Let us face it: many of our schools have serious accommodation problems. There is a great need across all sectors. No sector is excluded. A major commitment and investment are required to improve the overall condition of the schools by replacing sub-standard accommodation. It is needed where classrooms are undersized and overcrowded; where they are old and poorly maintained; where serious physical and structural deficiencies are posing health and safety risks; where inadequate physical education is provided; and where the very delivery of the school curriculum is inhibited, or narrowed, because children are not being taught in a safe, warm, dry and stimulating environment. If we are going to do a good job here, we should act in the interests of all our schoolchildren. That should concern us more than anything with respect to education.

On first reading the motion, one could be forgiven for believing that Mr Wilson has seen the light and is espousing the equality agenda, the removal of sectarian discrimination and the redressing of the historic funding imbalances and differentials that have disadvantaged particular education sectors. For example, the Catholic maintained sector, which was deemed to be underfunded by £200 million in 1983, did not receive 100% funding until 1993 - a mere eight years ago.

On first reading, I thought we were going to hear some enlightened commitment to the principles of equality from that most unusual of sources, Mr Sammy Wilson. However, it appears that my hopes were ill-founded. Mr Wilson evidently has different ideas. He has set out to take the debate out of context and wilfully ignore the experience of Catholics in education since partition and the inception of the six-county state. It happened in jobs and housing, and it happened in education as well.

Our experience has been one of systematic structural discrimination, and there is much work to be done to create a level playing field, redress the balance and bring about equality for every citizen in the Six Counties and their children. Because I, with some foundation, doubted Mr Wilson's intentions, I attempted to table an amendment before 9.30 am in the form of an addendum. It came as some surprise to me that the Business Committee, or the Speaker, disallowed my amendment, despite my meeting the clear deadline for tabling amendments of one hour before the start of business. It is a matter of some regret. My amendment would simply have added the following words:

"This should be based on educational need and taking account of the historical differential in capital funding between the maintained and controlled sectors."

It is important to get the historic perspective right to inform ourselves of the present and to acknowledge that there is an historical legacy. There is a much greater backlog in the Catholic maintained sector, which is playing catch-up, than in some other sectors. All of that was dealt with in the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights (SACHR) report compiled by Prof Tony Gallagher in the 1980s, which led to the journey to equality in that respect. Catholic parishioners were long forced to pay for their children's educational facilities while other sectors enjoyed 100% funding all along. That is why many of our schools do not have the elaborate playing fields that other schools enjoy.

The journey to equality does not begin today on a blank sheet -

Mr S Wilson:

Will the Member give way?

Mr McElduff:


Things were not equal in the past, and that must be addressed. I support the calls for funding to be allocated on the basis of educational need, using a clear, open and transparent method and adhering absolutely to objective criteria. It is understandable that individual schools feel disappointed when they are not accepted on the programme. We also need to appreciate that various schemes are at various stages of design and planning. How many schemes are ready to go? That is a relevant question.

We can all quote figures. In the last five or six years Michael Ancram, I think, spent £23 million in one year on the school building programme. Three or four years later Mr McGuinness spent £72 million. It is reasonable to anticipate that the Minister will act in a fair manner with respect to this.

3.00 pm

In conclusion A LeasCheann Comhairle, ba mhaith liom rud éigin a rá faoi Phádraig Mac Piarais. One of the leading educationalists of last century was Pádraig Pearse. In 1905 he said

"Take up the Irish question whatever way you want and you end up at the question of education."

Go raibh maith agat.

Mrs E Bell:

I support the motion in principle. All Members should take upon themselves a personal duty to ensure a fair distribution of the capital spending budget between the various school systems. I support that. However, as other Members have said, there will always be concerns, disappointments and sometimes even relief when the annual announcement of the education capital building programme is made. It is right that we should monitor such announcements closely and watch where allocations are made.

We would all like to see local schools being given the necessary resources to improve or replace their buildings. In my constituency of North Down I have, with colleagues past and present, been engaged in a campaign that has lasted more than 20 years to have Glenlola Collegiate school estate improved. I was delighted and relieved when moneys were allocated to that last year.

We also have in the area Clifton Special School, which originally opened its doors to 55 severely mentally and physically handicapped pupils. Now, more than 20 years later, around 120 children are being educated in rooms and facilities that would be considered totally unacceptable in any other school, never mind in a school that is specifically for the severely handicapped. Pupils and staff put up with inconveniences daily, but still the school boasts a fine record. The Minister visited that school last October. He was shocked at what he saw, but he was also impressed by how well the staff and pupils cope. I would like that project, which, as I said, has been promised for many years, to have been part of last year's programme. However, I am hopeful that it will be in the 2001 programme.

As others have said, the procedures for inclusion in the capital building programme are long and complicated, but each sector and geographical area must be considered before final decisions are made. The timetable for all major capital schemes is protracted and will always involve consultation at various levels to ensure equity. Economic appraisals, development proposals and tender procedures all take time. Work by the Department on each project is intensive and has as its basic principle - and this is written in every board memorandum - that school needs must be met insofar as is possible.

I make these comments to show that it is possible to ensure at all stages that a fair capital spending programme can be drawn up by all involved. The allocation of new starts 2000-01 is as follows: maintained schools get 32·2% of the total, which is just over £23 million; voluntary schools 27%, or £19·4 million; controlled schools - which Mr S Wilson is quite rightly worried about - 35%, or £25·3 million; integrated schools 2%, or £1·4 million; and special schools 3·8%, or £2·8 million.

If we are talking about equity, we need to look carefully at integrated, special and Irish-medium schools. Integrated education, people will argue, is a small part of the education sector. I wonder why. If all education were integrated, we would not be worrying today about sectarian headcounts.

Last year's allocation was the largest we have had, and I hope tthat that will be a permanent feature of local administration. I am sure the Education Committee will do its best to ensure that distribution of resources is fair.

Obviously, parents have the right to choose the schools to which their children go. We must consider that when looking at the distribution of capital funding as well as at the condition of the buildings.

There must be a review of the process and of the timetable in particular. Can we do anything to ensure that it is expedited in some way to prevent waits of 20 years or more? Any new procedures ought to ensure that the terms of the motion are honoured. The Education Committee will play its part in that. Members must ensure that distribution is fair and free from sectarianism.

Mr B Hutchinson:

I declare an interest. In my capacity as a Belfast city councillor, I am a member of the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) and have been part of decisions made on capital spending.

I am somewhat surprised by the debate. I assumed that Members would take up sectarian positions. There is always an argument between Sinn Fein and the SDLP about who the real Republicans are and who the real Nationalists are. I was surprised to see that Sinn Fein deliberately missed out the private finance initiative. That party claims to be socialist, so PFI should be the first thing on its agenda. However, there is no mention of it, even though it is a major part of the capital spending plan.

The Minister must adhere to certain criteria. Mr Danny Kennedy said in a recent article in the 'Belfast Telegraph' that he could not make a statement and then ignore what he had said. However, if I, as a member of the BELB, thought that the Minister had ignored criteria that would have put one of our schools to the top, there would be an argument with the Department of Education about that. In the Minister's defence - people may wonder why I would defend him - the criteria have been well scrutinised. There are many sectors in the Department of Education, and we may need to look at that.

This is not about sectarian politics; it is about educational need. It does not matter whether a child is Chinese, Protestant or Catholic. All are entitled to an education. Mr Kennedy raised a valid point. SDLP Members talk about attacks on Catholic schools; Protestant schools have been attacked as well. Irrespective of whether a school is in need of repair or replacement, there is a morale problem among the teachers and pupils in such a school. That is a big problem. We must spend money to ensure that teachers do not work and children are not taught in such impossible conditions. We must ensure that educational need is met, and the criteria will help us to do that. The criteria should not be concerned with whether a school is Protestant, Catholic or integrated; they should be concerned only with the educational needs of children and how they can help their teachers to perform.

Mr Wilson's motion is rather paradoxical. We all agree with what he is saying, but we all know that the system cannot, in one sense, be "equitable". If there are five Catholic schools that need attention before Protestant schools, or vice versa, that is the need that should be dealt with.

We cannot say "We should take a Protestant school today and then a Catholic school" and leave four other schools that may be in more need of attention, so there is a bit of a paradox. At the same time I sympathise with Sammy Wilson's motion. How do we get this right? How do we ensure that someone does not run with his or her agenda? There are mechanisms in place to prevent that. The boards, while they continue - and how long they continue is an argument for another day when we may have more money - should scrutinise what happens, and we need to look at that too.

A number of points have been made, but the important one is that we act according to educational need, and I am not sure that we can ever get the Protestant/Catholic balance right.

People need to wake up to PFI. Private finance can be attracted to the Malone Road or Bangor, but attracting it to the Shankill or the Falls or any other working-class area is almost impossible.

Ms Morrice:

I want to focus on an area that has not been mentioned enough in the debate, and that is integrated education. My Colleagues Eileen Bell, Billy Hutchinson and others did refer to it, and that is vital. This is about using increased money to satisfy parental demand. There has been talk about parents sending children to schools of their choice. Parents who want their children to go to integrated schools do not always have that choice, because there are not enough integrated schools in Northern Ireland to give it to them. Applications for places often have to be turned down.

That sector needs support. It is often said that the integrated sector is perceived as getting more than traditional sectors, a myth that I want to explode at the outset. Mr McElduff mentioned catching up. If we are talking about catching up, we are talking integrated education. That is what the integrated schools are doing - playing catch-up. We have only to compare the statistics for the various schools systems over the last 50 years - not the last 10 years or the last five years, but the last 50 years. Remember that the first integrated school, Lagan College, was set up less than 20 years ago, in 1981. There is a desperate need for vastly increased funding for the integrated sector in order to ensure what Mr Wilson describes as "a fair and equitable distribution of the capital spending budget".

Another myth that I want to dispel is the claim that the integrated sector gets more than its fair share of the cake. We have 45 integrated schools. Thirty-one were set up from scratch by parents. When the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 came in, giving equity to integrated education, 10 integrated schools already existed. Two of those, Windmill Primary School, set up in 1988, and Omagh Primary School, in 1990, have had only mobile classrooms since their inception.

I will not go into detail on this, because my Colleagues have covered it. We should focus on the need to educate Catholic and Protestant children together, which is stressed in the Good Friday Agreement and is hugely important for mutual respect and understanding. Children go to separate schools at the age of four and do not meet a child of another religion until they start work or third-level education.

3.15 pm

I want to underline the need for integrated teacher training, the only area of third-level education that is segregated. We must move away from the past, with the old headcounts of Catholics and Protestants, and into a new future in which children of all religions learn to respect each other.

The position of the Women's Coalition is that capital spending must take account of targeting social need and the historical imbalance due to the non-funding of sectors such as integrated education. We also have reservations about any major new capital expenditure, in any sector, before the review of post-primary education is complete.


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