Summary

  1. This morning, the education committee discussed the June monitoring round as delivered by the finance minister this week.
  2. They then received a briefing from the Education Authority on special schools early years provision.
  3. This afternoon, the finance committee received a departmental briefing on the June monitoring round.
  4. Committee members also received an overview briefing on the strategic policy division.

Live Reporting

By Brooke Allen and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

Good afternoon

That's all from our coverage of today's business at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Join us again tomorrow from 10:30 BST, when we will have full coverage of the health committee. 

The committee will receive a briefing from the chief medical officer and chief nursing officer, who will provide an overview of their responsibilities. This will be followed by a briefing by officials from the Health and Social Care Trusts. 

Until then, have a great afternoon. 

Committee adjourned

Ms Pengelly says it would be useful to "ask for the department for an update" on where they are with the MOU in light of the new minister. 

She postpones this item of business to be discussed on another date. 

After a brief discussion of committee business, the committee is adjourned. 

Emma Pengelly
BBC

Memorandum of Understanding

Committee members are now discussing the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the budget process.   

Handshake
Science Photo Library

A memorandum of understanding is a formal agreement between two or more parties or organisations. MOUs are not legally binding but they carry a degree of mutual respect. 

Departmental officials leave

Ms Pengelly thanks the officials for coming to the committee today before they leave. 

The committee briefly discuss action points which have arisen from the briefing. 

Officials from the DoF leave
BBC

Any women economists?

Ms Ruane asks the officials if there are any women economists in their team. 

Mr Simpson says "yes, I wouldn't have the exact figures but there isn't any apparent imbalance to me". 

Catríona Ruane
BBC

Ms Ruane says she would prefer to have a mixed gender panel making presentations to the committee. 

Laughing, Ms Pengelly says "we did have a 75% female [panel] last time". 

Concerns over immigration

Sinn Féin's Catríona Ruane agrees with Jonathan Bell on unemployment figures falling, however, she says we have to "factor in immigration". 

Passport and visa
BBC

She says she would like to see the economy grow "so people we have lost, particularly in the construction sector, will be able to come back to Northern Ireland to jobs." 

'We can't take the foot off the gas'

Jonathan Bell makes reference to recent unemployment figures, which have fallen by a further 600, and says, "we can't take the foot off the gas in that respect".   

Job Centre touch screen
BBC

"Can we ensure that the trajectory of that continues while doing the extra work on corporation tax?", he says. 

Tony Simpson says it is a "key priority" and the department are continuing to work on servicing the demands that corporation tax places on the division and wider department. 

Briefing on the strategic policy division

Department officials  Victor Dukelow, Tony Simpson and Alan Ramsey are now briefing committee members on the overview of the work of strategic policy division. 

DoF department officials
BBC

Corporation tax

The DUP's Jonathan Bell asks about budgetary pressures on business areas that are required for the systems development of corporation tax. 

"Can the committee give an assurance that there are no negative detrimental pressures ongoing on other business areas while we work on the system development of corporation tax?" he asks. 

Jonathan Bell
BBC

Ms Worth says: "I don't think there are any service delivery pressures arising because of corporation tax. There are undoubtedly service delivery pressures arising because of the Voluntary Exit Scheme (VES) and the need to save money through that, but they will not be directly as a result of needing to allocate resources to corporation tax". 

Bids omitted from June monitoring round

Ulster Unionist Philip Smith says the June monitoring round does not identify any bids and he makes reference to the previous monitoring rounds, such as the last one in November 2015, which did list bids.

Philip Smith
BBC

"Was there a change in policy that came out to say that bids were not to be identified and if so, were did that originate?" he asks.  

Ms Brigitte Worth from the department says she was "not involved in that process" and is "genuinely not in a position to answer that question". 

Cuts caused 'serious damage' to education body

Robbie Meredith

BBC News NI Arts and Education Correspondent

"Serious reputational damage" has been caused to the Education Authority by its "mishandling" of plans to cut hours for pupils in special school nurseries, according to Barry McElduff, the chair of Stormont's education committee.

Sharon O'Connor
BBC

The authority's chair, Sharon O'Connor, said she was "very sorry for the upset that parents are continuing to experience".  

TUV leader leaves committee

Jim Allister
BBC

TUV leader Jim Allister proposes that the committee do not have the evidence session as the June monitoring round was already decided and presented by the minister yesterday in the chamber

Sinn Féin's Ross Hussey seconds the motion and it is put to an oral vote. 

The committee votes against Mr Allister's proposal and he leaves the committee, saying he is not "going to give credence to this farcical session". He says he will return when the briefing is over. 

Oral evidence on June monitoring

Finance committee
BBC

Officials from the Department of Finance have arrived to brief committee members on the June monitoring round. 

In the chair

Emma Pengelly
BBC

Welcome back to our live coverage of today's committee business at the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

The DUP's Emma Pengelly is chairing this afternoon's meeting of the finance committee. 

Brexit could mean NI border checks says PM

Flags
BBC

David Cameron has said a vote to leave the EU means checks could be implemented on people departing Northern Ireland for other parts of the UK.

He was replying to a question at Prime Minister's Questions from the SDLP's Alastair McDonnell. 

Lunchtime

We'll be back at 14:00 with live coverage of this afternoon's finance committee. 

Committee members will receive a departmental briefing on the June monitoring round and an overview of the work of strategic policy division within the Department of Finance. 

Action points outlined by committee members

Committee members outline a number of action points in relation to the outcomes of the briefing. 

Education Committee
BBC

The committee agree they will write to the minister to outline the "unanimous opinion" that they were disappointed by how this has been played out by the EA. 

The committee will also write to the EA to ask a number of questions, seek sight to area plans and ask them to provide an update on Fleming Fulton School. 

Mr McElduff adjourns the committee meeting. 

Special needs nursery provision is 'not a resolved issue'

The committee chair says he realises that this is "not a resolved issue" but says there will be ongoing engagement with parents as they are "itching" to get in on the issue. 

He thanks the officials for coming to the meeting today and they leave. 

No 'immediate plan' to change provision

Gavin Boyd says the school is emerging from a difficult time and there is "tremendous work going on", but we need to "put the appropriate support in place". 

Catherine Seely says she does not accept that the inspection is the "justification for it now not being an open option to parents". 

Dr Mangan says there is "no immediate plan to change the provision at Fleming Fulton school".   

MLA asks about current situation with Fleming Fulton School

Pupil with computer
BBC
Pupil at Fleming Fulton School

The DUP's Lord Morrow asks about the situation surrounding Fleming Fulton school, wondering if the school is still open and why they have not been "given the treatment that they feel they deserve". 

Dr Clare Mangan says she hopes the school is still open because "we have an enrolment of children" and says she has given the school a commitment that she will re-engage with them. 

Need for provision to increase by 20%

Dr Clare Mangan talks about the increase in need for provision from "300 children to around 365 children". 

She outlines some of the measures already put in place to tackle this increase in need, such as the extension of early years places in certain geographical areas. 

Clare Mangan
BBC

She says that due to this growth, "it has not been possible within the time frame to commence detailed formal consultations, however, there has been engagement with school principals" and "these steps are required to meet need in September". 

 She says the EA is committed to conduct a full review after this. 

'More conflicting information'

Chris Lyttle says he received an answer to a written question from the minister yesterday, which states there would be 344 places needed for 2016/17. 

"So I have even more conflicting information," he says. 

Dr Mangan says the data in relation to this is "changing daily" and will "change until 31st August". 

"We also know there will be children through the waiting lists in health who will be identified during July and August for placement possibly in September," she says. 

Chairperson asks for apology

Nursery
BBC

Mr McElduff says he thinks there should be an apology from the EA to parents for the "mishandling of the decision making process, how it has been communicated to parents, to schools and even to this committee". 

He also says the authority should accept "on the outset, that this has done serious reputational damage to the EA". 

Ms O'Connor says she is "happy to give an apology to parents" but she thinks people "also need to recognise we [EA] are responsible for a very significant number of children with statements. We have over 365 children that we will have to find place for this year". 

"The bottom line concern that we had was that we didn't provide for one child and have to turn away others - we have to do the best for every child and that's not easily resolved when you have a 20% increase in need," she says. 

Special schools early years provision

The committee are now discussing special schools early years provision. 

Ms O'Connor says the authority are "projecting a 20% increase in need from last year". 

She says the starting point of their interim arrangements is to ensure every child who needs a place for this September's intake will receive a place. 

School inspections should be more 'child centred'

School classroom
BBC

Ms Barton also asks if there is not "some way in making [school] inspection processes more child centred". 

"When we are monitoring performance, focus should be on educational outcomes, rather than having all the boxes ticks," Mr Boyd says. 

'Rural-proofing' ideas

The UUP's Rosemary Barton asks the officials what consideration they have given to "rural-proofing" their ideas, for example, in terms of transport and broadband provision in rural locations. 

Mr Boyd says rural-proofing is a requirement and the authority produces area plans in line with the guidelines from the Department of Education. 

He says that guidance is "very sensitive to community needs around schools". 

Authority won't loose 'the local touch'

Catherine Seeley
BBC

Sinn Féin's Catherine Seeley says, as a previous teacher, she appreciates the amount of work that went into amalgamating the five education and library boards into one single Education Authority

She asks how the authority will engage with parents and particularly those "harder to reach" parents. 

Ms O'Connor expresses the importance of communication. She says the authority have given this top priority and they need to think about "how we do not lose the local touch". 

"We are now going to be taking our strategic plan out to the heart of the communities," she says. 

Location of the authority

Mr McElduff asks if it has been based where the EA will be based. 

Ms O'Connor says the authority are "more concerned with designing the services than we are concerned about where buildings are located". 

Sharon O'Connor
BBC

She says there are a very small amount of people based in Belfast and the vast majority of people are "located across the region". 

"I think that would continue to be the case," she says.    

Rural school transport provision

School bus
BBC

Mr McElduff asks if there will be any changes to the rural school transport provision. 

Ms O'Connor says there are "great variations from former board area, to former board area" and the Education Authority (EA) will need to decide how they "provide equal provision across the region". 

"We haven't reached any conclusions on that," she says. 

In addition, Mr Boyd says "transport provision is dictated by legislation, so we apply the legislation". 

Reduction in staffing

Gavin Boyd
BBC

Mr Gavin Boyd talks about cost savings in the Education Authority.

With particular reference to staffing, he says in the last year, "about 200 staff left under voluntary exit" and the authority "suppressed another 80 posts". 

"We have seen a very, very significant reduction in staffing that has led, on the one hand, to a reduction in recurrent costs of about £36m per annum, but on the other hand, it has also meant that staff who were the principal point of contact for schools over a number of years have left the system," he says. 

Education Authority briefing

Education authority officials
BBC

Committee members are now receiving an introductory briefing from Education Authority officials - Mr Gavin Boyd (interim chief executive), Ms Sharon O'Connor (chairperson) and Dr Clare Mangan (director of Children and Young People's Services).

Once the introductory briefing has been made, the officials will then discuss special schools early years provision

'Credit where credit is due'

Caitríona Ruane
BBC

Sinn Féin's Caitríona Ruane says "it is not just our job to support the minister, but it is also our job to scrutinize the minister and we will do that, but equally I think we need to give credit where credit is due".

"The winners yesterday were further and higher education, primary special needs and school budgets," she says. 

"I think as an education committee we need to be positive when we get money," she adds. 

'Further clarity and transparency' needed

The Alliance Party's Chris Lyttle says in the absence of any great explanation from the minister, "I think it exposes his early attendance at this committee for the PR exercise that it was". 

Chris Lyttle
BBC

"We got few answers on some really key serious questions last week," he says. 

Ms Barton proposes that the committee writes a letter to the minister explaining their concerns and asking for "further clarity and transparency on the budget". 

Committee 'sold a pup' by minister

Mr McElduff makes the committee aware that the department has not provided papers or an official brief on June monitoring. 

Ulster Unionist Rosemary Barton says she is "very disappointed" by this and we need further clarity on what the budget allocations are for. 

The SDLP's Colin McGrath says he feels like the committee have been "sold a pup" by the minister. 

He discusses how the minister attended the committee meeting last week and was very open in approach.

He adds: "As soon as we asked, last week, a couple of tough questions on June monitoring, he withdraws his departmental staff the next week and refuses to give permission for them to discuss with us and allow us to carry out our scrutiny role." 

June monitoring round

Money
BBC

Yesterday, the Finance Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, announced £175mi of funding allocations to departments in the June monitoring round.

The funding agreed by the Executive includes an additional £30million for education. 

Committee members are now discussing this.  

In the chair

Barry McElduff
BBC

Sinn Féin's Barry McElduff is chairing this morning's meeting of the education committee. 

Education chiefs set for grilling

Classroom
BBC

Stormont's education committee is to question the Education Authority on its plans to cut the hours disabled children spend at nurseries in special schools.

The authority had initially proposed that their pre-school provision be cut from 22 hours a week to 12.

Good morning

Good morning and welcome to today's business at the Stormont Assembly. 

We'll have live coverage of the education committee this morning from 10:00, when members will discuss the June monitoring round as outlined by the finance minister yesterday

There will then be a briefing from Education Authority officials on special schools early years provision.

This will be followed by an introductory briefing from the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA). 

Then, this afternoon, we'll have live coverage of the finance committee from 14:00.