Planning for sustainability - 2011 Viability Audit
Terms of reference: 30 September 2011
In his Statement to the Assembly, on 26 September, the Education Minister, John O’Dowd MLA, highlighted his concerns about the challenges and pressures facing some of our schools. The key concerns relate to their ability to provide the high quality of education that is expected, the uncertainty about their current viability and hence their longer term sustainability.
The Minister has indicated that this cannot be allowed to continue, primarily because of the detrimental educational impact on children and young people but also because of the pressing need to reduce inefficiencies within the system and ensure maximum resources are focussed on front line services.
The Minister outlined the intention to commence a process of collective, strategic planning which will be co-ordinated by the Education and Library Boards working in close conjunction with CCMS and other school sectors. The involvement of the ELBs, supported by CCMS, in leading this exercise reflects the respective (and linked) statutory responsibilities of the Boards and CCMS.
As a precursor to, and to inform the wider area approach to, planning the Education and Library Boards and CCMS, working in close conjunction with other sectors are tasked with undertaking a viability audit of all schools to identify those schools which are evidencing stress now in relation to sustainable enrolment levels, delivery of quality education and financial viability.
The viability audit will identify those schools where action will need to be taken in the short term to protect the education of pupils. It will also support the development of a detailed area profile based on current and relevant educational information which will be an essential part of the area planning process.
The audit will apply to all grant-aided primary and post-primary schools of all management types in each of the five Education and Library Board areas, including those with special units. At this stage, it does not apply to nursery schools or special schools.
The viability audit will draw heavily on work that school managing authorities are already engaged in relation to planning education provision; school improvement; and embedding the curriculum and the Entitlement Framework. Much work has already been done and there is a wealth of information already in the possession of the Boards and CCMS against which schools may be assessed.
In taking forward this work the Boards and CCMS must ensure that their assessment reflects, and supports the implementation of, the Department’s policies, in particular Sustainable Schools; ESaGS; the revised curriculum and the Entitlement Framework; Count, Read: Succeed; Irish Medium Review and the SEN Review and takes due regard of commitments outlined in the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent legislation in relation to Integrated and Irish medium provision. (This list of policies is not exhaustive.) Throughout the process the principles of promoting equality of opportunity and good relations should be adhered to.
Roles and responsibilities
The Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986 (Articles 5 and 6) outlines the duty of the Education and Library Boards to secure efficient and sufficient provision of primary and secondary education within the board area to meet the needs of all pupils. The Department is therefore commissioning the Education and Library Boards, in line with their statutory duty, to co-ordinate this audit. The Department also recognises the statutory duty placed on CCMS under Article 142 of the Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 to promote and co-ordinate the planning of the effective provision of Catholic maintained schools. Accordingly, we expect that CCMS will co-ordinate the audit of Catholic maintained schools and feed this into the wider audit. Each ELB will need to audit all controlled, other maintained, grant-maintained integrated and voluntary grammar schools in its board area, working closely with trustees, Boards of Governors and sector bodies, and to pull together a final report that covers all grant-aided schools in its area.
The key output from this project will be a report that:-
- identifies, based on robust and verifiable information and the professional judgement of the Boards and CCMS, all primary and post-primary schools currently facing significant viability challenges in terms of sustainable enrolment trends, delivering quality education (including the requirements of the revised curriculum and the Entitlement Framework) and financial stability
- categorises these schools in terms of the root cause of the problem
- presents proposals, either already in place or planned, for such schools, to address the causes of unviability in order to protect the education of the children and young people enrolled in those school
The viability audit should commence immediately and should draw on the local knowledge of the school managing authority. The outcome of the exercise in the form of a report should be with the Department by the end of December 2011.