The current impasse schools are facing over the Delivering Social Change Shared Education signature project has been highlighted by the Irish News. Several hundred schools will potentially be denied funding for Shared Education due to the fact that controversial pupil assessments are a mandatory condition.
Currently teacher unions are involved in industrial action refusing to recognise the assessment arrangement. The Irish National Teacher’s Organisation claim the assessments have “no value to pupils, parents or teachers and is distracting from the real education of pupils.”
The £25 million Delivering Social Change Project is designed to create a more cohesive education system in which children from different community backgrounds can be educated together. In the Business Case for the project, the Department of Education said it envisaged that around 65% of schools (equating to 762) would be eligible to participate in the project.
During the Assembly debate on the Education Committee’s report on the Inquiry into Shared and Integrated Education the Education Minister said “The signature project has already received applications from over 300 schools. There is much to celebrate, and I pay tribute to those schools that have pioneered working together”. However the Irish News article quotes an Education Authority spokesperson saying that to date only 55 schools demonstrated they met all of the criteria.
Only after letters of offer had been sent out were principals warned that full compliance with end of key stage ‘Levels of Progression’ was a mandatory condition of the Shared Education funding. Conditions were only added after the applications had been accepted. Conditions which the Department knew schools would not be able to meet as they have for the past two years been boycotting the arrangements.
The Education Committee raised concerns over the issue in their Shared and Integrated Education report. “Members felt that given: the concerns previously expressed by the General Teaching Council NI in respect of the efficacy of Levels of Progression; the very low levels of participation; and the ongoing related industrial action, it was both surprising and unwise for the Department to link participation in Shared Education with the implementation of Levels of Progression”. That said, the Committee accepted that some form of reasonable educational measurement be developed given the important linage between Shared Education and educational improvement.
"Schools have come such a long way in developing their shared education partnerships and agreeing joint work plans. This tremendous progress is being destabilised by government officially linking Shared education projects to industrial action. Industrial Action which has nothing to do with Shared Education" explained Lauri McCusker from the Rural Centre for Shared Education.
"It's so disappointing to hear from school leaders across NI how Funding Letters of Offer have now been withdrawn. We urge the powers to be to find an urgent solution to this mess." Emphasised Mr McCusker