Being a contender

Northern Ireland Minister, Barry Gardiner, announced £222 million for new school buildings and repairs. Out of 43 schools to receive money, there is one integrated school and one (voluntary) grammar school. There’s several reasons for this.

Individual schools submit their needs to the Department of Education (DE), who rank them into five categories, with Category 1 having the highest priority. Category 1 is “unmet demand”, caused by insufficient pupil places in a defined area; Category 2 is “rationalisation”, to replace sub-standard accommodation; Category 3 is “serious sub-standard accommodation”, which includes undersized classrooms, overcrowding caused by increased enrolments, and a large proportion of accommodation in poorly maintained temporary classrooms. DE produces a “Contenders List”, which includes schools with needs in categories 1-3.

Importantly, the Contenders List does not include all schools with category 1-3 needs. The issue is how schools make it onto the Contenders List.

Both the integrated and voluntary grammar sectors are essentially independent, and do not have (statutory) advocacy powers, as the controlled (state) and maintained (Catholic) education sectors do. After all schools submit their building needs to the Department of Education (DE), who then create its “Contenders List”, integrated and grammar schools just have to hope for the best.

Now, if the Assembly was up and running, its Education Committee would call in DE to review the Contenders List. The Committee could query and challenge why some schools did not make it to the Contenders List. In the absence of a devolved administration, civil servants get their choices unchecked.

The £2.8 million conventional (public) funding for Enniskillen Integrated Primary school is to be welcomed. This was the only integrated school on the 2004 Contenders’ List.

The concern is for the four other integrated schools on the DE’s School Capital Priorities 2003 Composite List, all with category 3 needs:

  • Braidside, Ballymena (replacement of temporary accommodation)
  • Corran, Larne (replacement of temporary accommodation)
  • Millstrand, Portrush (new school)
  • Portadown (school extension)

As DE has a duty “to encourage and facilitate the development” of integrated schools, will there hopefully be a future Ministerial announcement addressing the above declared need?

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