Most Northern Ireland schools face difficulties in key areas

John O'Dowd Mr O'Dowd said swift action had to be taken to address problems facing schools

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Eighty-four per cent of secondary schools in NI and nearly 50% of primary schools are experiencing difficulties in at least one of three key areas.

Three areas were examined by the Department of Education - quality of education, the numbers who attend, and the school's finances.

The figures were released on Tuesday.

They were compiled to examine if children were getting a good education and to establish which schools are financially viable.

In the primary sector, just under half of all schools are currently experiencing difficulties in at least one category.

In secondary schools the figure is much higher at 84%. In the grammar sector the figure is 35% .

When he launched the audit last year, Education Minister John O'Dowd said some schools may have to close.

Mr O'Dowd said there were too many empty places - up to 85,000. He told the assembly this equated to more than 150 empty schools.

'Complex picture'

On Tuesday he said the reports would be of concern to parents and staff but he emphasised it would be impossible to close schools which "were demonstrating stress".

"It must also be recognised that this is a complex matter and the viability audits only present part of the picture," he said.

"What it does is highlight where the support needs to be targeted and where the priorities lie as we begin to area plan."

The minister said his department's Sustainable Schools policy recognised that every school had its own unique set of circumstances which needed careful consideration before the area plans were finalised.

"But we cannot ignore instances where the pupils are not accessing high quality education and this is why in some cases we need to take swift action," Mr O'Dowd said.

He said he would be writing to school managing authorities to "seek assurance" that steps were being taken to protect the educational wellbeing of pupils in schools with the greatest degrees of stress.

"I would ask those in education, parents, politicians and the media to look at this information in the round rather than focus in on individual schools," he said.

"I would ask that they consider the facts and ask themselves, what is this saying about our education system and what should we be doing?"

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