Northern Ireland

Education Authority: NI's new schools body prepares to start work in April

Gavin Boyd (centre) will lead the new Education Authority from 1 April as its interim chief executive
Image caption Gavin Boyd (centre) will lead the new Education Authority from 1 April as its interim chief executive

The original idea of a single Education and Skills Authority (ESA) for Northern Ireland was abandoned after seven years of fruitless negotiation, but now plans are well advanced for the substitute Education Authority.

The EA will take over from Northern Ireland's existing five education and library boards at midnight on 31 March 2015.

It is a more modest organisation than planned, and is really one very large board, rather than a completely new concept.

However, it will streamline the provision of education services and save some of the money which was spent on too many boards with duplicated jobs and services.

The deputy permanent secretary of the Department of Education, Fiona Hepper, told the education committee that it will have an annual budget of £1.5bn and a total of 37,000 employees.

That includes those working in schools but about 2,500 people work directly for the five education boards.

The original aim was to cut the number of those staff but because of a freeze on recruitment that has largely already been achieved.

Image caption The deputy permanent secretary of the Department of Education, Fiona Hepper, said an estimated £250m could be saved by setting up the EA to replace the five boards

The next group to feel cuts is middle and senior management - 50% of existing managers will go within the next few years.

That means 30 people who are likely to leave through voluntary redundancy, retirement or resignation, according to the Department of Education.

Because so many board jobs have gone, savings have been made already.

Ms Hepper said the original estimate was £185m over 10 years, when in fact the estimate is now closer to £250m.

The current chief executives will be replaced at the top by the interim chief executive Gavin Boyd.

He can stay in that post for a year or longer before a permanent CEO is chosen.

The former chief executives will stay in senior jobs in the meantime but will be called "regional managing directors".

The interim chief executive says a priority is to appoint an interim head of finance and head of human resources.

Those departments are said to "be under very real pressure because of job losses".

The Minister for Education, John O'Dowd, is currently deciding on the duties and salaries of a new second tier of managers.

The post of chairperson has been advertised and is said to have attracted a good level of interest. Interviews have been carried out and the process of appointment is in its final stages.

Eight political parties and other interest groups are currently choosing their nominees to the board of the new Education Authority.

The former principal of Belfast's Ashfield Boys school, Dr Andy McMorran, has been revealed as the Ulster Unionist representative.

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