Weir highlights challenges facing education at ASCL conference

Date published: 09 November 2016

Education Minister, Peter Weir, has addressed delegates at the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders in Templepatrick.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is a professional body which represents senior staff in education including system leaders, Principals and deputies.

The Minister’s speech highlighted the many challenges facing education within Northern Ireland and the need to work together to ensure successful delivery to the pupils.

He said:

“There is a similarity and interdependence between a school leader and the role of Education Minister, we are both accountable to the pupils we serve. There are many challenges facing us collectively in education and there is therefore a clear need for us to work together to demonstrate leadership and to find solutions to the difficulties that lie ahead.

“The education budget is facing severe constraints and whilst I have sought to respond to pressing needs, I have also had to make hard decisions for the benefit of schools and pupils across Northern Ireland. We must face these decisions with a maturity that our pupils expect from their leaders.”

The Minister continued by highlighting his decisions which ensured choice for schools in relation to GCSE awarding organisations; which gave greater flexibility for practical class sizes; and which allowed primary schools to prepare pupils for the transfer tests.

He said:

“I trust the judgement of School Leaders and Governors and that is why I took these early decisions, however we need to go further. In the coming weeks I intend to seek the views of schools on autonomy and increased financial delegation. This is in effect a pre-consultation letter, which will issue to every school in Northern Ireland. This is an opportunity for schools to make their views known in an unfettered fashion.”

On Educational achievement the Minister said:

“We have much to celebrate in terms of academic success with a key factor being the leadership offered in schools. Exam results are consistently the best in the UK however gaps remain in our educational underachievement, especially amongst those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I want to see opportunities for all children with pupils being able to pursue the pathway that is best for them.

“It is now ten years since the last review of the curriculum, which is why it is vital that there is a fundamental reassessment of it in this Assembly term. I want to ensure that academic standards are maintained, vocational pathways increased, and a sensible and practical approach is taken to the burden placed on schools by the Entitlement Framework, with more flexible and imaginative solutions found.”

In conclusion, the Minister highlighted the challenges around the schools estate. He said:

“There are too many pupils being taught in too many composite classes, with many stretching over more than two year groups. This is educationally unsound and spreads resources too thinly.

“I welcome the work being done by the Education Authority on its draft Area Planning document, with every education sector represented around the table for the first time and I look forward to seeing the shape of education going forward into the future.” 

Notes to editors: 

  1. Follow us on Twitter @education_NI
  2. See photos from the Department of Education in our flickr collection.
  3. Media enquiries to the Department of Education Press Office Tel: 028 9127 9207. Out of office hours, contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 0762 397 4383, and your call will be returned.

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