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Big payout even as number of pupils falls

26-10-2007

The Irish News

A new school curriculum and children living in disadvantaged areas will benefit from a multi-billion-pound package for education.

Counselling services, schools which share facilities with each other and the Irish-medium sector may also be among the big winners.

The Department of Edu-cation will see its budget increase by 4.3 per cent a year until 2010-2011 - at a time when pupil numbers are continuing to fall.

Further resources are to come from efficiency savings.

The money will support a revised curriculum, which aims to improve the youngest children's start to primary school and places greater emphasis on developing life and work skills.

Work can also continue to provide post-primary pupils with better access to a wider range of courses including collaboration between schools and with further education colleges.

In addition the gap in achievement levels between the best and worst performing pupils is to be targeted through a school improvement policy and new literacy and numeracy strategy.

Teaching principals in primary schools will receive extra support to allow them to make more productive use of their time.

The draft proposals would allow streamlining of education administration to be taken forward through the creation of an education and skills authority by April 2009.

Such an authority, replacing regional education boards, would aim to reduce bureaucracy and improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of services.

The budget allocation will kick-start 100 major school building projects and 18 public/private partnerships - where private companies build and maintain schools in return for mortgage-style re-payments from government - including eight special needs schools. These projects have previously been approved.

Education minister Caitriona Ruane said last night she would consider priority areas in the coming weeks.

She said she would like to see greater investment in pre-school and primary education, as well as an improvement in the mathematics and English skills of pupils from areas of social disadvantage.

"Pre-schools and early intervention is a key priority. The earlier you start dealing with problems, the better the outcome for children," she said.

"The development of the curriculum is probably one of the most exciting things to happen in education. It has given me heart watching the delight of teachers and children. It is now a tailor-made curriculum.

"It is exciting and will be one of the areas I look at in relation to funding."

However, a teachers' union said it was "dismayed" that a key demand - the introduction of dedicated time for planning and marking in the school day - had been ignored.

"The big loser in this executive budget is the children of Northern Ireland," INTO northern secretary Frank Bunting said.

"In England, Scotland and Wales teachers have had 10 per cent of their teaching time allocated to planning, preparation and assessment.

"As a result of the executive's penny pinching, all this work will continue to be done on a voluntary basis by teachers working from their homes at night."

Meanwhile, in the further education sector part of the Department for Employment and Learning's draft allocation will finance accommodation for the both the new North West Regional College and South Eastern Regional College.

 

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