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We support shared education in Northern Ireland, but we do not believe that one sector deserves more funding than another.
No child’s education should suffer because of this. We will ensure that pressure is kept on the UK Government to uphold their New Decade New Approach commitment ‘to financial flexibility to re-profile funding provided as part of the Fresh Start Agreement for shared and integrated education’. Community engagement is central to developing a bottom-up approach to shared and integrated education. Without community buy-in, the transition to shared and integrated education is not feasible.
Environment has an important part to play in education and our schools and places of learning must be fit for purpose, now and in the future.
The DUP Education Minister has already announced a £794 million investment for 28 new schools benefitting some 25,000 pupils.
We are committed to building more new schools across Northern Ireland in the next 5 years, with a focus on better utilising technology within the classroom.
As society changes, so too do our places of work. We support the increased promotion of vocational and digital based subjects
in both secondary and grammar schools and combining traditional education with day-release schemes to learn vocational trades first-hand, whilst also ensuring that young people leave education with basic Maths, English and IT requirements. As our workforce becomes increasingly digital, our education system needs increased support to ensure that children from Key Stage 1 and up receive the best coding training possible.
Breakfast and homework clubs are invaluable to both tackling educational underachievement and supporting working parents. We support the continuation
of the Extended Schools Scheme with enough funding to ensure that there are places for all pupils who wish to avail of this. There is a greater role for community based after schools’ clubs as an additional way to widen access to these clubs and a place to development our library network to encompass new approaches to tackling educational underachievement and building up digital capability.
The cost of school uniforms can be extortionate, a problem that is increased depending on the number of children in a household. This can cause both financial difficulties and unnecessary concern to many families across Northern Ireland.
We support a cap on the cost of school uniforms.
Children in Northern Ireland deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential. For some, this may require additional support.
We support measures to improve early intervention and diagnosis for those with Special Educational Needs to ensure each child has the necessary support. We will commit to introducing mandatory training on Special Educational Needs during all teaching degrees, with updated training to be provided to all current teachers. We also need to modernise and expand the Special School estate with more school builds to support those need them.
Our DUP Education Ministers have invested heavily in programmes such as Engage, extending School Counselling (Health Happy Minds) and Well-being funding for schools but we need to recognise that some children are still coping with issues related to their experiences during lockdown. We will continue to prioritise these programmes that have been so effective in supporting our children through the pandemic and beyond.
Over the last assembly term the numbers of students achieving 5 GCSEs (A* - C including English and Maths) has increased 7%. In 2016/17 it was 69.6% increasing
and to 76.2% in 2020-21 with alternative awarding. This represents good progress but more needs to be done to support students who are struggling.
We have continued to focus on this priority whilst other political parties have used it as a sound bite .We will commit to supporting these students through the sound recommendations made by the Expert Panel in Educational Underachievement in their ‘Fair Start’ report.
There has been significant and sound research to suggest that the Early Years are key in a child’s educational journey. Parents need supported to understand that early language development and play are very important. Early intervention is key and funding needs to support this ambition.
We will commit to a new-targeted programme of support for children under two years old and we will work with the Department of Health to achieve this.
This will be themed around the Sure Start Development Programme.
We know that the workplace is changing and therefore our children need to be prepared to for that changed environment. More jobs will rely on digital skills and underpinning many of these will be the ability to code. We will establish Coding pilots for Primary Schools alongside partners in industry. These will be evaluated to test the best method for teaching
our children how to code in a fun and informative way.
A schools primary focus should be on the education and support of its children but we know the demands on Classroom Assistants, Teachers and Principals has risen steeply over the last two years. We want to devolve more decision making powers to schools, especially with regard to procurement and purchasing.
One of the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the rediscovery of the outdoors for adults and children alike. We have already provided a significant investment of £2 million this year to assist schools to enhance their outdoor learning spaces and provide good quality play equipment.
Outdoor play has proven educational benefits and is also effective at developing other skills such as teamwork and problem solving for children. We want to develop and support schools as they repurpose their outdoor space. We will now establish a fund for schools to support them in creating better outdoor spaces surrounding their school and also work with partners such as Forest Schools to allow those in urban areas with less access or space to realise their ambitions in this area.
We have learnt through COVID-19 the importance of ensuring that children get at least one hot meal a day. We need to ensure that primary school children have
access to a free, healthy and nutritious meal. We need to be ambitious in this area and therefore we will work to seek to do more.
We will examine this important area for many children in Northern Ireland who are limited at the moment in which school they can attend because of the inability to get free transport. This will open up a level of parental preference not realised yet in Northern Ireland because some parents simply cannot afford to take their children to a particular school because of the distance of travel. The party will lobby the Executive for additional funding to support this new scheme.
The DUP, through its Ministers, has delivered a number of key education objectives. While progress has been made we recognise there is much more to do.
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