Tuesday, 14 May 2013

O’Dowd outlines position on future of rural schools

Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has outlined what he is doing to address the needs of children in rural communities.
The Minister was speaking in the Assembly today during a debate on the future of rural schools.
Speaking about the importance of a high quality education for all pupils, the Minister said: “Since September 2011 my focus has been on ‘Putting Pupils First’ through creating a high quality education system that will enrich the lives of all young people.   I want to ensure that children living in rural areas have access to the same high quality education as those living in urban areas.
“My focus is on the children in rural communities and not on the school buildings.  Schools are there to serve the needs of the children who attend them. 
“Our geography means there will always be a need for a significant number of small rural schools and the Sustainable Schools Policy takes account of this, through the inclusion of a lower enrolment threshold for rural primary schools.  Furthermore, the ‘strong links with the community’ criterion takes account of the contribution the school makes to the local community including the use made of school buildings and the level of parental involvement.”

Addressing parental concerns on school closures, the Minister said: “Let me emphasise once again that schools will not close simply because they fall below thresholds.  Where it can be clearly demonstrated that a small school is needed then it should be retained and supported to ensure that quality education is the predominant characteristic of that school.

“The Sustainable Schools Policy does not seek a one-model-fits-all solution to the problems brought about by demographic decline.  Rather, it provides a consistent framework within which any review of a school’s viability can be handled carefully and sensitively, taking account of local circumstances on a case-by-case basis.”

In conclusion, the Minister commented on the legal process that the Education and Library Boards and the Department must comply with.  He said: “Any significant change to the schools estate requires the publication of a statutory development proposal.  This involves widespread public consultation, giving local communities every opportunity to make their views known.  I encourage communities and schools to involve themselves in this process and provide robust solutions which will result in a strong vibrant schools estate.  I will look seriously at innovative solutions that are about educating children and not just about keeping schools open.”

More information

Education and Library Boards have published draft primary area plans which are open for public consultation until 30 June. Visit http://www.puttingpupilsfirst.info to view the plans and leave a response.

The Department of Education has launched a new ‘Education Works’ advertising campaign. The campaign encourages families to play, talk, read and count with their child and to ‘Get Involved Because Education Works’. Watch out for the ads on television, radio and outdoor locations. The campaign highlights the vital role families can play in helping children do well at school and improve their life chances. Visit http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/education-works for more information.

Watch the TV ad on the Department’s YouTube channel:

See photos from the Department of Education in our collection at http://www.flickr.com/niexecutive

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