Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Christmas Comes Early for (some) Grammar Schools

John O'Dowd - Minister of Education**

Education Minister John O’Dowd said: “Last year I signalled my intention to establish a School Enhancement Programme. The purpose of this programme was to ensure that we provide the best possible education estate for our children and young people, within the budget available.

“The SEP is designed to enable the refurbishment or extension of existing schools and I am pleased to announce today that 50 schools have been informed that their applications have been successful and will be advanced to planning. This represents a potential investment in the estate of £106million over the next two to three years.”

Examples of projects proceeding under the School Enhancement Programme include the provision of permanent build accommodation to replace mobiles, refurbishment of existing accommodation and the provision of sports facilities.

The Minister continued: “The successful projects are all consistent with the emerging area plans and the scale of the investment underlines my continuing commitment to improving the schools estate. It comes in addition to the major works projects worth £350million I have announced since last summer; in addition to the £31million I have invested in minor works since January; and in addition to the £47million I have earmarked for maintenance this year.

“Today’s announcement is good news for the pupils, staff and school communities involved, as well as being a welcome boost for the local construction industry.”

I've looked at the schools which are to be enhanced, by sector:

Voluntary Grammar [non-denominational] :: 10 schools
Voluntary Catholic Grammar :: 11 schools
Controlled Grammar [non-denominational] :: 0 schools
Controlled Secondary [non-denominational]:: 2 schools
Catholic Maintained Secondary :: 3 schools
Grant Maintained Integrated :: 6 schools

Why do some grammar schools appear to have favoured status over secondary schools and why are there no controlled grammar schools on the list? There's been some speculation that the Education and Library Boards have been given the task of culling surplus provision in the post-primary schools sector and the axe appears to be directed at the controlled grammar school sector.

This ministerial announcement reinforces that view and it's further bad news for pupils, staff and school communities in the controlled grammar school sector.

Is it not a little strange that this financial decision has been taken in advance of agreement on the area plans? But then again the area plans are merely plans by sector cobbled together for each area.

[**It would be ironical if the Minister and the Department, aided by the Education and Library Boards, 'succeeded' in transforming a number of good schools into failing schools]