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Deadline for new education body 'unrealistic'


09/09/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: Belfast Telegraph

Serious concerns were expressed today about the deadline for the establishment of the new single education authority for Northern Ireland.

Bill Reilly, president of the Association of Northern Ireland Education and Library Boards (ANIELB), has spoken out in response to a series of questions relating to the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) posed to the association by the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Reilly branded the current April 2009 deadline -- a year later than the original timescale -- "unrealistic" and said that board staff would welcome certainty on the future of their jobs.

He also questioned whether the existing services to schools could be "at least maintained and ideally further improved" under ESA as a result of the considerable redundancies taking place within the education boards.

In a recent interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Education Minister Caitriona Ruane said it was "all systems go" in relation to the establishment of the authority.

"ESA is a key driver of reform in education and it is very important that we do meet the deadline," she said.

However, her Executive colleague Sir Reg Empey told the Telegraph that it was very difficult to see how the April 2009 target -- an agreed priority set out the in the Executive Programme for Government -- could be met.

The Telegraph asked ANIELB if the education boards were suffering through loss of staff and a decline in staff morale.

Mr Reilly said: "While vacancy control is reducing the scope for boards to replace staff, particularly those in critical positions, circumstances differ greatly from board to board. Board staff would naturally welcome certainty about the establishment of ESA and particularly their own continued employment and the location of their jobs but they continue to recognise that the demands made on them through delivering services have got to be met. As has happened at previous times of uncertainty, staff respond with resilience."

When asked if the April 2009 deadline will be met, Mr Reilly said that the association was anxious to know the answer to this question.

"It is our belief that, as a result of the delays and uncertainties to date, the April 2009 deadline is unrealistic," he continued.

"We are dealing with children's futures and the association and boards are far from satisfied that it would be possible to have a smooth transition by April 2009."

The final question asked for the association's view on whether ESA will achieve higher savings and transfer of resources to the classroom.

The ANIELB president said: "The Association has been advised that a considerable amount of the projected financial savings will arise from redundancies within the boards."

Last month, the Department of Education warned that money will be taken away from Northern Ireland's schools if ESA is not established by April as further delay would hit the millions of pounds due to be saved in administration costs and budgeted to go directly to classrooms across the province.

It is costing £50m to set up ESA. However, the streamlined administration is due to save £8m in its first year, £13m in its second and £20m per annum from year three.



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