The Upper Bann MLA said, "This report is the culmination of two year's work, commissioned by former DUP Minister Peter Weir, with the panel appointed by Michelle McIlveen. It is important we look to the future and put in place an education system that can deliver for Northern Ireland. The review is wide-ranging and we will take time to study it in detail. However, there are both challenges for those involved in education as well as providing solutions across a number of areas.
The emphasis on a proper funding settlement for education is vitally important. The fact that education budgets have seen real terms cuts of around £150million over the last ten years is something we raised with the panel during our engagements with them. In Northern Ireland we spend on average £450 less per pupil than in Great Britain. That is a significant funding gap which has been to the detriment of schools. Sustainable schools for the future require sustainable funding.
We welcome the focus on early intervention which builds on "A Fair Start" that was again brough forward by DUP Ministers. Investment in this part of a child's school life will reap enormous rewards. It will also require close co-operation between the Departments of Health and Education to deliver early interventions for children with particular needs. The recommendations for provision of 22.5 hours per week for preschool children and 20 hours per week for 2-3 year olds will require a massive investment in preschool education. However, early intervention at this stage will have the most significant benefits for a child's prospects in later life.
At the other end of the spectrum, the proposal to change the law so that everyone remains in education until 18 years of age is interesting, but the system must be adaptable enough to make this a proposal that would work.
The panel makes important recommendations in relation to pupils with special needs. It is vital that some of these recommendations are taken forward immediately so that we will have a system that is fit for purpose . It must meet the differing needs of those children and allow parents and children to know what school they are going to at an early age.
The recommendations in relation to school sustainability will require careful consideration to assess any impact on schools based on their geographical location or their sector. Ultimately however the focus must remain on the outcomes for pupils and ensuring they receive the education which matches their needs. A long-term and key proposal from the DUP has been a separate management authority for Controlled schools. This is also something recommended by the panel.
Ensuring the curriculum is more closely aligned with the needs of our economy and filling the skills gap is particularly important, alongside the role and vision for further education. Ensuring our young people are leaving school with the best and most useful skills will be of benefit to them as they look to compete in the workforce."