Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

John Leonard
Departmental Assembly Liaison Officer
Department of Education
Rathgael House
Balloo Road
BT19 7PR

Our Ref: 183/08/I/02

10 March 2008


  1. The Committee for Education at its meeting of 29 February 2008 considered its interim response to the consultation on ‘Every School a Good School’. Members agreed that, rather than following the format of the ‘Consultation Response’ document, it would provide more general comments in this preliminary response and the Committee would reconsider its comments when it receives the Department’s synopsis and analysis of consultation responses – and preliminary way forward. The Committee therefore requests that this be provided to it as soon as possible after the consultation closes and, on receipt of it, will consider whether or not to call officials to a meeting to present the consultation synopsis etc. and answer Members’ questions.
  1. As indicated above, the Committee would make the following general comments on the Consultation Document at this stage.

    (a) School improvement should be driven by teachers, Boards of Governors and parents within schools – so emphasis to bring this to school level is welcomed. The Committee would add that direct involvement of pupils should be encouraged – such as Pupils ‘Councils’ input to decision-making in schools. The emphasis on getting rid of bureaucracy and interference by administrators was welcomed. However, some Members considered that the Department was distancing itself from schools and absolving itself of its responsibilities. Could this be the Department putting itself at arms length in the wake of the adverse PAC report and follow up scrutiny from this?

    (b) Lots of reasons for underperformance within schools well-documented (regurgitation of Tony Worthington’s 6 Booklets) but not much credence on social environment impact acknowledged – there must be a methodology for dealing with community aspects of education. You cannot abandon disadvantage and the realisation that more support and resources are needed. In this context Chapter 8 regarding Involving Parents and the Community is a bit thin, with too many platitudes. E.g. the three proposed actions are bland and more needs to be done, such as co-operation with DSD and the Voluntary/Community sector and early interventions at P1 and P2 levels. Also, the Committee noted the importance of the Extended Schools Programmes but has concerns regarding budget cutbacks in this area.

    (c) Some new punitive measures but Members were not sure how effective these will be – more ‘sticks’ are added with some ‘carrots’ removed (must encourage good practice but not reward underachievement). It was agreed that if there is a serious problem with teachers, there should be a way of removing them.

    (d) Welcome emphasis on value–added in Chapter 9 (e.g. means of comparing good secondary schools with other schools); however, need to develop measures for key concerns at paragraph 9.3. Also if there is too much emphasis on school data, there is a danger that too much time will be spent on this in schools.

    (e) Welcome the spelling-out of the role of Boards of Governors – B of Gs should hold the principal of a school to account if school performance is significantly failing. Proposals at paragraph 10.4 make it clear that more work can be put on B of Gs, which strikes up the issue of accessibility of training for them (e.g. timing etc.) Can be a delicate balance to be struck by B of Gs in terms of intervention or non-intervention? The proposal that ESA would have the power to remove B of Gs and appoint new ones was noted.

    (f) The Committee noted the National Standards for Head Teachers at paragraph 7.3 and also consider that it is important for principals to play an active role in fostering quality relationships within the school.

    (g) There are 57 funding streams to schools - DE needs to sort this out as it results in a lot of non-teaching time for teachers. Members note with concern that only 12 schools are currently in the school support programme (11.2).

    (h) Surprise that there is no criticism of literacy and numeracy levels brought out in this document.

    (i) The quantification of funding to address issues such as empowering teachers and the need for more teacher staff development is not brought out in this document.

    (j) Paragraphs 3.1 to 3.4 highlight the need to put money into disadvantaged schools (‘needs-based analysis’ approach), rather than taking money away from them. There is a need for directed resourcing of schools and this document is too broad brush in targeting all schools: e.g. the idea of focusing on the 40 schools in greatest need in Belfast/Greater Belfast. However, good leadership is also need from school principals. The concept of learning from good schools with focused/targeted intervention, (particularly early–years and, e.g., improving teachers: pupil ratio) to resolve underachievement should be rolled out. The need for this is evident when you get major performance differences between similar schools in the same social setting. However, this consultation basically says bad schools will be identified and punished.

Yours sincerely

John Simmons

Clerk to the Committee