Calls for Scrutiny of Local Education Decision-Making

Article excerpt

TOUGH independent scrutiny of the Department of Education has been called for, amid a deepening controversy over its decision making.

Ulster Unionist education spokesman David McNarry has noted that DENI's plans to ditch academic selection and remodel post-primary schooling runs contrary to public wishes.

A household survey across Northern Ireland overwhelmingly backed the retention of some form of selection between primary schools and grammar/secondary schools.

The unionist parties hold the same view.

The department, however, is intent on introducing a new non-selective/comprehensive system, in line with recommendations contained in the Costello Report on education here and ex-education minister Martin McGuinness' wishes.

A DENI spokesman last night said that regardless of scrutiny it was consulting widely on education reform.

But Mr McNarry recently raised the issue with Prime Minister Tony Blair, highlighting to him that DENI's plans are in contrast to his own education reform package in England, which is suggesting comprehensives have failed and some form of selection is the way forward.

He said Mr Blair was concerned at the apparent opposing policies being pursued by Government in two different parts of the UK.

Education Minister Angela Smith is due to introduce draft legislation on the new post- primary model early next month.

Mr McNarry said the Government must "stop ignoring what is uncomfortable" for it and voiced concern that the department was "resistant to independent scrutiny".

The MLA said: "The ministerial statement on Review of Public Administration refers to an education and training inspectorate that will 'provide an independent professional assessment of the effectiveness of existing or proposed new policy'. …