Official Report: Minutes of Evidence
Committee for Education, meeting on Wednesday, 4 November 2015
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:Mr Peter Weir (Chairperson)
Mrs S Overend (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Craig
Mr C Hazzard
Mr D Kennedy
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr N McCausland
Ms M McLaughlin
Mr Robin Newton
Mr S Rogers
Mr Pat Sheehan
Witnesses:Mr Andrew Bell, Department of Education
Mrs Faustina Graham, Department of Education
Shared Education Bill: Department of Education
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I welcome from the Department Faustina Graham, who is the director of collaborative education and practice, and Andrew Bell, who is the head of shared education and the community relations team. I ask you, Faustina and Andrew, to brief us for a short period, and then we will open it up to questions.
Mrs Faustina Graham (Department of Education): I begin by thanking the Committee for accommodating an earlier start to your meeting this morning to facilitate our other commitments; it is very much appreciated. I also thank you for the opportunity to brief the Committee on the Shared Education Bill ahead of next week's Second Stage debate.
I will take a few moments to update you on developments since we last briefed you. Sharing Works, which is the policy for advancing shared education, was published on 16 September. The policy addresses a number of the recommendations that the Committee made in its report on shared and integrated education, and that includes action to provide consistent support and tailored programmes of training for senior leadership teams, teachers, parents, children and communities. It is also about monitoring and evaluation arrangements based on a wide range of objective impact measures, a focus securely on educational improvement and mechanisms to disseminate good practice, which will include good practice from the integrated, other mixed non-integrated, special school, and preschool and nursery settings. The Minister has also announced his intention to undertake a review of integrated education, which is a further Committee recommendation, and we are considering how best we can address the remaining Committee recommendations.
In relation to the Delivering Social Change (DSC) signature programme, a third and final call has been made for applications from school partnerships to that project, and there is a closing date of 23 November. Members will be aware that ongoing industrial action by teacher unions in relation to the statutory assessment process has impacted on delivery of the signature project. The Minister is personally engaged in discussion with teacher unions to resolve that issue, and the tone of those discussions has been positive. We are hopeful of a speedy resolution.
I turn to the Shared Education Bill. The Bill includes a legislative definition of shared education and will provide the Department and relevant arm's-length bodies with the power to encourage and facilitate shared education. It will also enact the duty on the Education Authority (EA) to encourage, facilitate and promote shared education as provided in the Education Act 2014, as well as the requirement on the authority to appoint a standing committee to exercise its functions on shared education. It is important to say that the Sharing Works policy is designed to complement the Bill, and the policy then develops definitions and operational detail to illustrate the Bill's practical outworking. The legislative definition set out in the Bill references the minimum essential requirements that must be in place for shared education, and that is the education together of those of different religious belief and socio-economic background.
Since we last briefed the Committee, the wording "including reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic children and young persons" has been added to ensure that addressing the legacy of the past remains integral to work on building a shared future. As I indicated, the legislative definition is underpinned by the policy description. Both are reflective of the definition endorsed by the ministerial advisory group. Both also encourage educational settings to work to maximise the education together of those from all section 75 groups, as far as is practically possible.
The power to encourage and facilitate shared education will apply to the Department, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), the Youth Council and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA). The proposed legislative power to encourage and facilitate shared education is complementary to and in no way undermines or supersedes the Department's statutory duty to encourage and facilitate integrated education. The Committee recommended that the statutory obligation to encourage, facilitate and promote shared education, as set out in the Education Act 2014, should be extended to the Department and its arm's-length bodies. Shared education is still an evolving area, and good practice is still being developed. A power will provide the necessary flexibility as we seek to embed and, ultimately, mainstream shared education. It allows us time and space to encourage and build confidence in the education system and, importantly, in the wider community on the benefits of shared education and to remove doubts about perceived risks as expressed by some of the respondents in the public consultation.
There were mixed responses regarding the need for legislation and the proposals for a power rather than a duty. Some respondents argued that building consensus was preferable to legislation. A power will enable the Department to encourage growth organically from school to school, youth organisations to schools and early years organisations to schools, as quickly or slowly as is appropriate for the various partners. It also allows discretion as to the level of compliance of individual communities, reflecting unique factors such as the degree of community tension that exists. In other words, a power avoids the risk of communities perceiving shared education as being imposed on them rather than encouraging and facilitating those communities to move at a pace that builds powerful and meaningful relationships. There is the risk, too, that placing a duty on the Department that additionally includes a requirement to promote shared education will be perceived by some as a hierarchy, where shared education is regarded as in some way preferable to integrated education. The word "promote" is not used in the statutory duty for integrated education.
The Committee further recommended that shared education be defined as:
"curriculum-based interactions that always foreground educational improvement ... promoting attitudinal improvement and meaningful contact involving children and young people".
We believe that those operational issues are addressed comprehensively through the policy. The policy firmly positions shared education as primarily related to educational improvement, reflecting the DE vision and aims and those of the Northern Ireland curriculum. The shared education continuum model developed by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) and currently in use makes explicit links to curriculum-based interactions. We have established targets that include meaningful contact and attitudinal improvement, along with clear and objective impact measures for monitoring purposes.
I alert the Committee to the potential need for an additional clause in the Bill that, if required, would be added at Consideration Stage. We are currently in discussion with the Office of the Legislative Counsel regarding a clause that would allow the Department and the Education Authority to establish and participate in a charitable company limited by guarantee to support the ownership and governance arrangements for shared education campuses. That follows legal advice related to the ownership, governance and management arrangements for shared campus schools. Should an additional clause be necessary, I propose to provide members with an updated Bill and to brief you more fully during Committee Stage.
That concludes my statement. We welcome any questions that members might have about the Shared Education Bill.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Thank you, Faustina. That has been useful. Obviously, we will await developments on the potential additional clause.
I will ask you three questions on the content. You touched on the first one, which is the departmental policy side of it. The policy explicitly talks about educational improvement as one of the main drivers behind this. Why does particular reference to educational improvement not appear in the Bill to make it explicit instead of it being something that is, essentially, implicit?
Mrs Graham: As I said, we see what happens with regard to curriculum development and the interactions that go on as the operational outworking of the Bill. In planning the two pieces of work together, we saw that as being the more appropriate place to put the operational side of it.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): At least in terms of an operational objective. Talking about educational improvement is something by way of a driver or an aim rather than what the delivery mechanism is. Would the Department be hostile to making any reference to educational improvement in the Bill?
Mrs Graham: I do not think that the Department would ever be hostile to making reference to educational improvement; that is our entire aim.
The second point is about something that is not explicitly mentioned. The Bill makes explicit reference to socio-economic deprivation, but, previously, when indications were given from an operational point of view, you mentioned the promotion of inclusion, not just from the socio-economic side but from the aspect of racial or family background differences. Is there any intention to use the Bill to promote that form of inclusion? How will you do that?
Mrs Graham: I referred to the inclusion of all section 75 groups, and I said that that was the minimum essential requirement. We feel that we have put into the Bill what could be captured and measured easily with regard to the section 75 groups. Our experience has been that schools go beyond that minimum requirement, and I am sure that the Committee has found that in some of its work with schools. There is that expectation of inclusion in all schools; therefore, the whole area of the changing nature of our society will be reflected in the work that is ongoing in schools. As that grows and develops, the needs of all young people will be considered. That is the requirement of any school.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Finally, you may be pleased to hear that I will ask about something that is in the Bill rather than something that is not. I will then open it up to the Committee. I know that other members want to ask questions.
From a definitional point of view, the Bill refers to:
"those of different religious belief, including reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic children".
That will obviously apply to the different providers. It might be part of the definitions, but what does "reasonable numbers" mean in practice? Schools out there may wonder whether that could mean two schools from the same broad sector — say, two controlled schools — with some level of mix within them. Will you perhaps tease out for us what you mean by "reasonable numbers" and what that means from a practical point of view in the sense of who would be eligible to be counted as part of shared education?
Mrs Graham: As the Minister has said, the whole approach to the Bill and the policy has been to take a practical and common-sense approach. We have based everything that we have put together on the experience that we have had to date. With regard to the concept of reasonable numbers, we have found that we will always encounter variety in any school, group of partners and the community in which it is based. There are so many variables that to have been more precise than "reasonable numbers" would have limited what people would have done, whereas the Bill is trying to be enabling and empowering.
In all the programmes that we have had in place to date, a decision on whether to support a piece of shared education is never taken exclusively on the number of young people. It will be taken on a range of factors, of which the numbers will be a part. What is reasonable in one situation may not be exactly the same in another. Our schools reflect the communities in which they are based, and the same thing will happen with the partner schools. We have had situations in which it looks like there is an imbalance in the numbers towards one community or the other, but, in fact, the importance of the work that has been done is that each community is given recognition in that work. However, it has been a sensible approach for those schools to partner together. In our practical experience, we cannot say that it must be 50% or 30%; it is about making a common-sense, practical judgement and looking at it in the round to see what works.
When we spoke to the Committee previously, people raised the issue of special schools, and we also had that in the applications for the DSC project. Technically, special schools are designated as controlled schools. Therefore, there was a query about whether they could partner only with schools from the Catholic maintained sector, which is not the case, because obviously it depends on the population of the special school. The fact that it is designated as "controlled" in some way should not preclude —
Mrs Graham: It really is the spirit of reasonable numbers —
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): From that point of view, the designation will not be a bar to two schools working together, if they are from the same designation, but provided they pass the other test.
Mrs Graham: They can show that there are reasonable numbers.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Just to be 100% certain on this — it is not defined here — is it the indication that the Department, so far as you are aware, does not intend to define that any stage, but it or the EA will make a judgement on a case-by-case basis and say, "Here is a particular project, and we believe that it meets the test, given the overall circumstances. Here is a second application, and this application maybe does not meet the test for whatever reason"? However, it will not be explicitly about it needing to have a certain percentage of pupils; it will be flexible in that regard.
Mrs Graham: Absolutely. You have described it exactly as it has worked out in practice for us.
Mr Andrew Bell (Department of Education): The important thing, from our perspective, is that, whatever that breakdown is, it has the support of the local communities. That is the key. In partnerships where one community appears to dominate, those partnerships have to show how they have engaged with their local community to show that support and how they are planning. We have had some cases where it has been maybe 3:1 in favour of one community, but schools are actually managing that on a day-to-day basis by rotating the classes so that they have a better mix in those classes. Simple numbers in a school are not the key factor. Community support —
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): When you have flexibility — I suppose it is the age-old problem in various things — it can create opportunities, but, because there is a level of uncertainty, there is a downside to that as well.
Robin, did you want to speak on the numbers point specifically?
Mr Newton: Just on that point, Faustina, there are schools that exist in one sector but are very mixed and have taken those actions. They still exist in that sector. If such a school wanted to embrace this and move further along with it, what other factors would be taken into account?
Mrs Graham: As Andrew has said, in making any kind of bid, particularly within a project, there has to be that element of community support, so that there is support for this moving forward. More importantly, what will be crucial is the quality of the educational experience that will be defined in any piece of work that comes forward. You have indicated that this is, first and foremost, about educational improvement. We have found in the past that, sometimes, anything around this area has been viewed as a luxury or an add-on. This work is aimed at making all the work that takes place over the next period something that will be integral to the delivery of the curriculum. As people begin to see how that can actually achieve improved educational outcomes for their young people and, I suppose, create and develop more rounded young people as they leave school at 16 or 18, we see that, eventually, mainstreaming should happen almost of its own accord, rather than the Department having to lead it. However, we will continue to lead it.
Mr Newton: That is a good expression: "mainstreaming should happen of its own accord".
Mrs Graham: We would love that to happen.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): The question was about other factors. If schools are looking at building up a project, they will want a reasonable idea of whether what they are pitching is suitable. I appreciate that you have been looking at a range of factors. Does the Department intend to, at least, offer schools guidance on what would be acceptable?
Mrs Graham: Yes. I made reference to the Education and Training Inspectorate continuum. One of the things that we have said in general in the policy is that it is our intention to try to make policy connections etc more explicit for schools and to help facilitate the process. The Education and Training Inspectorate developed a continuum that allows schools to baseline their performance and that of their partner school together, to work collectively to establish a baseline of how the partnership is working. The important thing about that is that it is based on the four pillars of Every School a Good School, which are learner-centred provision, leadership, quality of learning and teaching, and the school in its community. Schools are very familiar with Every School a Good School and how that works, and they are familiar with ETI's 'Together Towards Improvement' documentation. This has been developed as an extension of that. In the guidance that schools will use for self-evaluation are four stages of that continuum: developing, defining, extending and embedding in the curriculum, which we have talked about. So, there is a clear guide, at the moment, around our best understanding of what shared education is. I anticipate that that continuum will look different by the end of the next four years from how it looks now. We are trying to have the Department, the Education Authority, ETI and schools working collectively to learn together through the process. That is the intention.
Mr A Bell: The other key thing is that we have provided the funding to the Education Authority. Any partnership will be offered the services of a shared education development officer who will work with them and work through the detail, so that they are not putting in applications, which they obviously put a lot of work into, that will not meet the requirements.
Mr Lunn: Thanks for your presentation. The Bill is mercifully short; I will say that. I am looking at the definition. Does it mean that a controlled or voluntary grammar and a controlled secondary school in the same area, where there might be educational benefits to sharing classes and facilities, which I thought was the original intention of this, may well not qualify under the definition, if they come from the same sector? There could be a struggling secondary school and a successful grammar close by. There would be obvious benefits — I would say to both schools but certainly to one of them — in the delivery of the curriculum and quality teaching. However, that definition does not appear to include the facility for them to cooperate under the scheme.
Mrs Graham: Are you talking about two grammar schools that would not have what we have described as a "reasonable" mix of —
Mr Lunn: I am talking about a voluntary grammar and a secondary school from the same ethos and background. Let us say that the voluntary grammar is, as some are, largely of one religion, if you must talk in religious terms, and so is the secondary school. It seems to me that a number of qualifications are required. You have to have "reasonable" — whatever that means — numbers of Protestant and Roman Catholic children or young persons. Is there a difference between a child and a young person? Then there are those who are experiencing socio-economic deprivation and those who are not. We have been waiting for the definition; at least we have one now. At the start of this, we were assured that the primary objective was to improve the educational prospects of children and to enable the curriculum to be delivered in circumstances in which some schools would have had difficulty otherwise, particularly at the top level, with small classes and combinations. It has been going on for years, and it is perfectly sensible. This appears to be almost diverting the project down the path of trying to encourage social mixing and bringing our children together, which is no bad thing. Obviously, as a supporter of a different system, I would say that. Where are we with this?
Mr A Bell: The key thing is that shared education is about educational improvement and improving reconciliation outcomes, which are part of the curriculum. Our experience from having run five years' worth of programmes with IFI funding is that you need to have that contact with the other community and meaningful contact on a long-term basis to be effective on the reconciliation front. Therefore, we need to ensure that, if those are the aims of shared education, there is that mix. Each application is looked at on a case-by-case basis. It is about ensuring that it has that mix. It is about educational improvement, but it is also about being able to address the reconciliation aspect.
Mr Lunn: To take a specific example; if Methody wanted to cooperate with the local secondary school, would it actually have to count the numbers in order to make sure that there was a reasonable balance? If it came up with a cross-section of its school population that reflected the overall percentages, which as we all know are 45% Protestant, 25% Catholic and 30% others, and there was a preponderance of "others" in the make-up, then the scheme would be very beneficial, potentially, to the other school involved, which may or may not be one that has a high level of socio-economic deprivation and free school meals, let us say. It is all a bit woolly. Andrew, you say that it is on a case-by-case basis, and I accept that that is really the only way to go on this. However, I hope that, as it rolls out, there will be a large degree of flexibility.
Mr A Bell: That is how the applications are looked at currently. There is a project board, and an assessment panel looks at each application. It looks at applications from the point of view of whether schools are able to deliver good educational outcomes, whether they demonstrate in their applications and action plans how they actually do that and whether they are able to address the reconciliation outcomes as well. It very much depends not just on the make-up of the schools but on what they clearly demonstrate in the action plans that they propose to do.
Mr Lunn: If you are doing that, is there going to be a genuine attempt to quantify the reconciliatory benefits at some stage?
Mr A Bell: Yes, we have measures for those. Queen's has already done a longitudinal research study, which I think they have already briefed the Committee about. That study has been extended to include shared education. We are measuring that. We are using the Young Life and Times Survey to get children and young people's attitudes on shared education directly. Again, the reconciliation question was asked as part of that.
Mr Lunn: To go back to it, two controlled schools with largely Protestant populations will not qualify for this. Yet, they may have a real need for it to deliver the curriculum, which was the original intention.
Mrs Graham: If it is two controlled schools or even to take your question around Methody and another school, the important thing is that schools are very clear about why they want to cooperate. If it is about educational improvement including the reconciliation outcomes, obviously a project like this is entirely appropriate. As we have said, I would not preclude the specific example you give as being an obstacle to someone participating in the programme.
It is also important to say that the Department has looked at the whole concept of schools that experience difficult circumstances in school improvement and those that can support other schools to improve. While we do not have something defined as a project at the moment, there is nothing to stop the Education Authority supporting schools, particularly post-inspection or, more importantly, those that are working in partnership on their own volition, in exactly the way that you have described. I do not want it to seem as though this is not an option for schools, but it is important that each school, as they partner, is very clear about the purposes for being partner schools in that way. That allows educational attainment to be improved as a result.
Mr Lunn: Last one, Chair. If two schools came up with a project that is extremely worthy but is clearly aimed more at reconciliation than educational attainment, which I would obviously support, would that find favour with the project board?
Mrs Graham: As we have discussed this morning, we are trying to give clarity around all of this through the Bill and the policy. There are still mixed messages out there. Some people see this as being purely about reconciliation, which is entirely understandable. If we looked at a project like that and thought that it seemed as though it had very worthy outcomes, as you have described, then we would return it to the schools with the offer of support from the development officers to see how we could get the focus of the project securely on educational improvement. Those projects have then been allowed to resubmit their applications, and we have reviewed them along the way. It is in our interests to help school improvement and to help them to develop.
Mr Lunn: If two schools in north Belfast wanted to come together to do a project to examine each other's traditions that would not help the pupils to pass their GCSEs but would help them to understand each other better, how would that fit?
Mrs Graham: I would argue that there are ways in which the schools could approach teaching their GCSEs that would also improve the GCSE outcomes — obviously, I would argue that. If part of the process of application and approval is actually helping those schools to see how that is possible, that would be a win for everyone. In all honesty, we are still in the situation where, particularly, there are questions to be asked around each of our disciplines and all the subject areas. In other words, how does this differ when I teach this in a shared education context to still achieve high-quality outcomes that also lead to the other aims of the project? We are still learning.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): This is more of a comment than a question. I am sure that quite a few other people want to come in here. To take Trevor's point on a broader level in relation to this, there is clearly a need for a high level of flexibility. You mentioned clarity, and the problem is that flexibility sometimes means that clarity is not necessarily there. One of the things we will have to look at, as a Committee, is that if we accept the definition at face value — and there could be a danger in tying it down too much as well — then how do we give ourselves some level of assurance that the implementation process will be correct and that we are not left with a number of cases in future where, taking Trevor's point that most people would look at a reasonably generous interpretation of the wording to permit projects, we do not get a situation where six months or a year down the line a rash of projects are rejected and the Committee or its successor turns round and says, "That is not really what we intended when we passed the legislation." There needs to be some level of thought put into this — and I am not quite sure how that is done — about the level of monitoring of the on-the-ground implementation, and about whether there is any level of control or a checking mechanism in that.
Mr Lunn: You are saying what I meant to say. You cannot expect absolute clarity in a situation like this — I accept that. You have to have a measure of flexibility, but I hope that it is a flexibility that will recognise the realities of some situations.
Mr A Bell: We have monitoring checks in there. One of the Committee's recommendations was that we would publish those, and that is the intention. Obviously, as things change, it is a lot easier to change a policy than to change legislation. We will be looking to update the policy, and that is what will —
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I understand that. I am not being prescriptive about whether this should be the case, but the question is this: are there mechanisms to do this other than legislation, as part of our overall examination of the issue? Is there anything in the legislation that we need to look at that can provide some form of mechanism? I am simply putting open questions at this stage, but it is something that we need to think through to take account of the implications of what we are passing. Generally speaking, people will welcome it, but they want to make sure that what is there is fit for purpose.
Mr Rogers: You are very welcome. I will go to the curriculum. You talked about things being curriculum-based and about school improvement and so on. Faustina, would you remind us of the four stages of shared education?
Mrs Graham: Defining, developing, expanding and embedding.
Mr Rogers: What mechanisms will there be to ensure that it is embedded in the curriculum?
Mrs Graham: The continuum is used by all partner schools to look specifically at their partnerships and how they work. At the moment, what we have asked for in the project is that in the self-evaluation process, where they baseline their performance, they would be at the developing stage in at least three —
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I am sorry; somebody's phone seems to be buzzing. We can feel the vibrations. It may be helpful, wherever the phone is, that at least it is not sitting on the table.
Mrs Graham: — of the four areas, with a view to moving at least one step along that continuum for the duration of this project.
There are schools that perhaps already see themselves as being at the expanding stage in some areas of the continuum. We would like to think that they would be embedding their work by the time they come to the end of the project. Overall, however, all schools are required to demonstrate how their partnerships have moved along the continuum in the course of the project. We cannot say that everyone will have embedded this in the curriculum by the end of the project. However, to give an example of some of the projects we looked at in the past, particularly under the IFI, they were very well intentioned. They did really good work and then felt, as the funding came to an end, that, potentially, the project came to an end.
Sustainability is built into the requirements of this work. A project may start at Key Stage 3 or post-16, but the expectation is that the school will demonstrate through its school development plan and the action planning process that the project will become whole-school as it develops. That is the intention. Whether it is in a curriculum area or, for example, in personal development and mutual understanding (PDMU), it should be developed on a whole-school basis. It is about each partnership developing it in a way that it can do best. At this point, all the partnerships that have been approved have had a baseline visit from the Education and Training Inspectorate to confirm their self-evaluation. The feedback we have had from the partnerships is that those visits have been very productive and constructive.
Mr Rogers: Say that, at GCSE level, the baseline was that one tenth of their curriculum involved sharing a subject across two communities. If they were to decide to move that up a step or two and three of their subjects were shared between two schools, would that lead to extra funding?
Mrs Graham: Not as part of the project, unless that is part of the plan. If they have planned for that to be staged across the four years, the funding would accrue over that period. Again, it comes back to the needs of individual schools in their partnership arrangement.
There is also the question of how far you need to go in sharing classes and the purposes for doing so. In some instances, it may not make sense for the school in a particular discipline; in other cases, it may be that it is not just about class sizes but the expertise of the staff in any of the given schools. I know that we are talking very much about the concept of flexibility this morning, case by case, but we have to have the confidence, as an education system, to allow that to happen. You will have experienced, as have I, the imposition of a training approach or idea that people then reject along the way, so this is really about allowing people to progress in a way that they have, as Andrew said, checks and balances to ensure that things move in the right direction. Ultimately, it is about the partnership having control over what it does.
Mr Rogers: Would the ETI be quality-assuring the self-evaluation of the process?
Mrs Graham: That has happened on every partnership to date. The first cohort will have a monitoring visit at the end of their first year.
Mr Rogers: This disturbs me. Take, for example, the DSC project, in which levels of progression were used to measure the quality of community interaction: we found that to be very strange, although schools had high-quality assessment in their own schools. Will we get away from that type of measure?
Mrs Graham: I do not think that we will ever get away from statutory assessment, because it is statutory assessment —
Mr Rogers: I do not mean that; I am just disturbed by some of the things that happened. I know that we are trying to work through a solution on this thing that would have used some arbitrary measure such as levels of progression that were really removed from looking at community engagement, which they do not measure at all.
Mr A Bell: They are used only for the educational improvement aspect. We have other measures for community engagement.
Mr Rogers: Yes, but, if you were in the schools' situation of looking at the baseline and they were using some different method of assessing their plans for community engagement, whether it was to offer two subjects at GCSE across two schools, you would be happy to use their measures — or ETI would be happy.
Mrs Graham: The important thing is that, looking at individual partnerships, all measures that are being developed will be used in that evaluation process. To be fair to the ETI, all measures have always been used in looking at the evaluation of individual schools. Part of this is that, as Andrew said, new measures are being developed that we cannot be completely confident about at this point in time, but, hopefully, especially with those around attitudinal etc, we have built on the experience that we have had to date. We are hopeful that some of our measurements will be quite cutting-edge in comparison. When we looked even internationally, we struggled, as you know, to find ways of measuring some of that achievement. In fact, I think that we will be leading the way on the work that we do on attitudinal change.
Mr Kennedy: Thank you very much, Chairman. I am surprised that one so young should remember those people.
You are very welcome. I apologise to other colleagues, but I have to move on to exciting political talks.
I want to expand a bit on Mr Lunn's concern about how this will work, not only on a cross-community basis but on a cross-sectoral basis, in that it is not going to be loaded with quotas that will, effectively, discount the opportunity for schools to bring forward proposals for shared education on a cross-sectoral basis.
Mrs Graham: When you say cross-sectoral, do you mean as in primary and post-primary?
Mr Kennedy: Yes. Also post-primary in terms of grammar and non-grammar — selective and non-selective. Are any restrictions or quotas going to be put in place to, essentially, exclude the potential for cooperation there?
Mrs Graham: No. I do not think that there would be any intention; that goes back to the concept of flexibility. As long as we have reasonable numbers, as it says in the Bill, and a mix of socio-economic background, that is the minimum essential requirement. Of course, we have seen that schools and their partners go way beyond that in reality, and so we have said that that is the minimum requirement. We are confident that schools, in terms of inclusion, are beyond that stage at the moment. We have seen interesting work across time in that area.
With regard to cross-sector for primary or post-primary, there are some pieces of work ongoing around transition beyond the shared education programme, but we would encourage those types of partnership as well, because the whole build of cross-sector is something that we have still not cracked completely in education. It would be very welcome.
Mr Kennedy: Where do you see the difference between shared education and integrated education in respect of the Bill?
Mrs Graham: At the most basic level, it is the fact that integrated education is about young people from both community backgrounds being educated in one school and shared education is very much about encouraging partnership between schools and encouraging them to work together. That is the basic explanation for the differences between the two approaches. One is an educational approach and has a sector associated with it — obviously, the integrated sector — and the other is an educational approach generally. At its simplest, it is children being educated in one school and children being educated through a partnership or network of schools.
Mr A Bell: Integrated schools can bring a lot to the process. Obviously, they have already developed a very inclusive ethos, which is one of the things we are trying to achieve through this. They can share that, but, equally, they can benefit from learning from others about educational improvement areas where they may be weaker in certain subjects.
Mr Kennedy: The intention of the Bill is to encourage further cooperation, collaboration and sharing between schools, rather than, ultimately, integrating them.
Mrs Graham: That is the intention, but schools, as a result of engaging in a programme like this, may choose to consider something different. Any integrated school will be established through parental preference; it is not something that we would dictate.
Mr A Bell: As communities move along with this, there is the potential for them to decide that the integrated approach is something that they want to move to. There is the potential for that to happen, but it may not happen in all communities.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): The other issue is defined in the Bill. We often think of sharing as "Here are two schools getting together", but, as well as that, various projects could be a cluster of schools. It could be a number of schools from different sectors in that regard.
Mr Craig: Like Danny, most of us are trying to get our heads round the definition. This is not about integration; that is not my understanding of it. It may lead to that, but it is not about it. That is what I want to explore with you. When you look at a shared education project, what will be the key drivers? Will it be educational achievement? That is vital. Will it be the sharing of scarce resources between two schools or, in many cases, more than two schools? Will that score highly? Is it, again, down to the sharing of traditions across sectors? How will you measure that? Is there almost a scoring card when it comes to a shared project as to how well it will do with regard to all of that?
Mr A Bell: It can be all of those. It is not really addressed in those particular points. Obviously, if an application shows that it is doing all of those, that is a relatively easy decision. All schools and communities are at different stages of the process. Some schools are in areas in which there are a lot of community tensions and there are different issues for those schools. Therefore, each needs to be looked at case by case. When looking at applications, two questions are key. The first is whether it is about educational improvement, whether they can demonstrate through their action plan how they will achieve that educational improvement, and whether we have the confidence that the steps that they are suggesting will do that. The second is whether they can also address the reconciliation issue. Those are the two primary issues that we look at.
Mr Craig: Andrew, this is where it will get difficult. It is not down to the legislation. We are here to encourage the sharing of resources, sectors, backgrounds and whatever. That is OK; that is easy to put into legislation. In reality, though, I know that you are saying that you take every case on a case-by-case basis, but this may well lead to legal challenges if cases are turned down.
Mr A Bell: To date, most of the applications have gone through. If there have been concerns, as Faustina has indicated, development officers will work with those schools. To be fair to the schools, they are perfectly open to that; they are working with development officers to address those issues. That is more of the approach that we are taking; we are trying to have a very facilitative approach to encourage as many schools as possible. We are not looking to turn schools down; we are looking at how we get schools involved in the process. That is the approach that has been taken to date. We are trying to be as flexible as possible and to give the schools the support and advice that they need so that they can address the points. In some cases, it may not have been a factor that they have thought about, and when it is raised with them they will be able to meet more of the aims.
The point that I was trying to make was that the key thing is that, because schools are all at different stages, one of the other factors that we will look at is where that school is. They give a background as to what they have done in the past and what the issues are. All those factors are taken into account. In judging applications, we look at where a school is at, what it is proposing and whether everything aligns so that we have the confidence that that programme will move forward.
Mrs Graham: In response to Mr Rogers, I touched on ETI and the continuum. The first place that a partnership will fall down is in the quality of the self-evaluation or if it is effective in looking at self-evaluation but realises, through that process, that it is not at a stage where it can embark on a Delivering Social Change programme. Some partnerships have recognised that. As Peace IV comes on board, it will be specifically aimed at schools that feel they are further back in the process. The important thing is that, through the self-evaluation process, schools are enhancing the quality of what they do. They have been quite familiar with doing that on a single-organisation basis. It begins to test things a bit more, particularly around educational improvement, when you have to open up all your organisation to another school and when you are doing that on the basis of trust. It is not something that is imposed or something that we have told people to do, but they know that, in order to work together, they have to build that trust.
That is a really interesting aspect of how you begin to see quality; equally, however, in looking at assessing those projects, that is one of the easiest places to say no to. In individual projects, we sometimes see a lack of mixing of children with the emphasis having been on the adults interacting as opposed to the sharing of classes. It has perhaps been about professional development for teachers rather than for the children. Again, that allows us to say, "Have you thought this through or are you are at the right stage to embark on this programme?". It has been an iterative process in that way. Hopefully, we will not have challenges.
Mr Craig: Faustina and Andrew, I welcome that it is a more open approach; it is almost a list. This goes back to what Seán was trying to get at. A lot of the projects are excellent. I could take you to examples in my constituency where this occurred naturally before we were even thinking of a Shared Education Bill. One of the biggest issues is the question of trust. It is not easy for two schools to trust and to share all the information that they have —
Mr Craig: Because, ultimately, they are competing. You cannot escape that under our choice system. When trust is built up to a level at which they share resources, and that benefits everyone, you can get around the complexities of timetabling, sharing teachers and all that because those are technicalities, but the one thing that you cannot escape is the physical resource implications of transport. The Bill is well and good, but will resources follow to allow or encourage those things?
Mr A Bell: The Minister has already committed on a number of occasions. This was brought up in the ministerial advisory group report, which reckoned that it was a shared education premium. There are arguments for and against that. The Minister has said that he is committed to mainstreaming funding for shared education in the longer term and to using the experience of the signature project and Peace IV to determine how best that happens. He has said on a number of occasions that he recognises that there are additional costs with that, and he has indicated that he is willing to mainstream those additional costs.
Mr Rogers: I have a very brief point on that. Looking at good practice in the past, we should open our eyes more to sharing education virtually and to projects for dissolving boundaries and so on where children from the two communities are brought together in a virtual classroom. Surely that should be used as a mechanism. It will not eliminate the transport issue. The resources are already there in terms of C2k and so on.
Should the technology not be used to its full capacity by having virtual classrooms?
Mr A Bell: Schools that have applied to the programme are doing that. However, one of the key factors is that a lot of evidence states that simply relying on virtual is not as beneficial as having some face-to-face interaction and opportunities for young people to meet somebody from another community face to face. I think that Queen's talked to the Committee about that. On a number of occasions, the Minister talked about young people learning about one another from one another. Evidence shows that ongoing sustained engagement helps with some of the reconciliation issues that you do not get to the same extent with a virtual environment. We are not saying that the use of ICT and C2k is not a key aspect of how you can deliver this in an economic way.
Mr Rogers: I am not saying that virtual should replace face-to-face contact, but surely a mix of both would cut down on travel costs and so on.
Mr A Bell: A number of the applications that we have seen are already doing that.
Mrs Overend: Thank you for coming in; apologies for missing the start, but I had to call at my local school with Nathan. I agree with a lot of the comments and concerns that have been raised this morning. The Youth Council is included in the list. What sort of projects do you foresee coming in under that umbrella?
Mr A Bell: As you will be aware, the signature programme is targeting schools. That will expand when the shared education funding through Peace IV comes in. In the past, we have seen youth-to-school collaborations that have been agreed under Peace IV. We have a number of very successful projects with International Fund for Ireland (IFI) funding in which youth workers work alongside teachers in schools. That is the sort of project that we are talking about. That gives you a more consistent approach, because the young people who attend those schools during the day go to youth clubs in the evening. So, the two are much more aligned, and you have a much more joined-up approach between the two sectors. If youth workers are working with schools, they can see what the schools are addressing, and they can address the same thing in an informal way through the youth sector. So, we have found those youth-to-school collaborations to be very effective.
Mrs Overend: So, it is not youth organisations working with other youth organisations across the community.
Mr A Bell: There will be potential for that under Peace IV, but not under the shared education thematic area. It will be under the children and young people thematic area, because youth organisations have already done this quite a lot in the past, as you may be aware. They have their equity, diversity and interdependence to address a number of the issues. That underpins a lot of youth-work practice. Yes, there will be an opportunity for youth-to-youth organisations under Peace IV, but it will be under the children and young people thematic area rather than the shared education thematic area.
Mrs Overend: How is that assessed? Will there be an assessment of the success of that?
Mr A Bell: Do you mean for shared education?
Mr A Bell: Peace IV will expand into early years. We already have the school-to-school framework model, and Faustina talked about the continuum model. The Education and Training Inspectorate helped to work up similar models specific to the youth and early years sectors to address the same issues. They will be used as a baseline for self-evaluation and for identifying how they take that forward.
Mrs Overend: Thank you for that. I wanted to raise the signature projects and the problems being experienced there. I have been contacted by schools in my constituency, as, I am sure, have colleagues. I shared a letter with the Committee this morning regarding the concerns that primarily schools under tranche 1, in particular, have. I understand that they participated in training and had away days, etc, before they were aware of the assessment criteria being placed upon them. I understand that some schools are proceeding with the project in the view that it all will be sorted while other schools have been advised that they must wait until it is all confirmed. There seems to be different views and advice being given to schools across the country. Can you clarify when they should have been told? They should have been told the assessment criteria upfront, surely.
Mrs Graham: That has been brought to our attention. I know that you asked about that yesterday. We would be happy to come back to you on that because we have a project board meeting this morning when we leave here. We will take that up with the Education Authority. We are confident that, in tracing back all our information, it has been in the documentation that there is an expectation that end-of-key-stage results would be submitted, although there are two things at play here. The Minister decided that any new money going into the system would be dependent on schools participating in statutory assessment. In the shared education programme, there is also an expectation that end-of-key-stage outcomes would be used as one of the measures. I think that that was the point that Andrew was making earlier to Mr Rogers. It is one of the measures in the programme, but, at the moment, it is the only common measure that we have of educational improvement. While we will look at all the outcomes in the round, it is nevertheless the common measure that we have across schools.
While we are confident that that was included in the documentation, of course we have to be open to listening to schools saying that they received mixed messages. I think that the important thing for us at the moment is that, as I said in the briefing, the Minister is engaging personally with the unions to try to bring resolution to this situation around the end-of-key-stage assessments and is awaiting a response from the unions at the moment.
Mr A Bell: As a Department, we have not been advising schools either to sign up or not to sign up; what we have been keen to do is to ensure that schools have all the facts. A number of schools were unaware of some of the negotiations that were going on, and we made them aware of those facts. What we do know is that some schools, immediately on receiving their letters of offer, indicated that they could not sign them and could not comply with the conditions. In those circumstances, the Education Authority has no option but to withdraw the offer. However, we have said that if schools get to a stage where they can, those offers will be reinstated. It is for other schools that came and asked the questions. We were giving the information, saying that this was something that they needed to consider and trying to be as helpful and facilitative in the process as possible. Ultimately, it is up to schools to make the decisions.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Faustina, you indicated that there is a meeting on this today: can you provide the Committee with correspondence? I am conscious that, while it is a very important issue and the Deputy Chairperson and I both raised it yesterday at Question Time, although I think that we pursued different routes on it —
Mrs Graham: It was raised with us, and we will take those concerns forward with the Education Authority.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): OK. I am just conscious that we get the most up-to-date information but also that we obviously have a lot of stuff to do today, so I am keen probably to continue.
Mr Hazzard: Thanks very much. I have probably just a few thoughts, actually. Without getting into the whole integrated and shared education argument, a lot of this is around the need to dissolve boundaries, yet I just wonder whether there is a fear that we may copper-fasten such boundaries if we are talking strictly about "shared" as being shared by Catholics and Protestants. I know that we have included social class in there as well, but we have serious issues in this society around newcomer children and ethnic minorities: where do they fit in shared education? Looking at the main reasons for bullying in schools, we see that they are homophobia, race and national identity etc: where does that fit into shared education?
I fear that we are looking at a 20th-century solution to a 21st-century problem. Our system is trying to move away from such identity factors as "Catholic" and "Protestant", and it should be. How does the Bill enable us to, I suppose, evolve in time? Is there scope to evolve if our system evolves? How do we ensure that this is not just another project or policy and that it will be inbuilt in everything that we do, with specific reference, I suppose, to area planning? Do the two dovetail? Are the two separate? Are there two working groups working together on this? For example, when Delivering Social Change funding ends, does shared education end with it or will it be inbuilt in the system that it is now here for the foreseeable future? There are probably more thoughts than questions in there.
Mrs Graham: In answer to your first question, yes, obviously. In its report, the Committee talked about visiting schools, seeing their work and listening to teachers talking about what they do. We have to have confidence that teachers know and understand the curriculum, and what we are doing here is supporting the development of that. It is the tension, I suppose, between, on the one hand, not ignoring the legacy of the past in order to build a brighter future and trying to ensure that there is that breadth that you have described. That comes back to my earlier explanation of the Bill being quite precise but the policy trying to demonstrate the outworkings as being much broader. To date, what we have seen in schools reflects that. That can only grow and develop in a very positive way around the concept of inclusion. I understand your point, and I think that we have taken cognisance of it.
As regards liaison, yes, we have tried in this, as I have said, to make the connections. I talked about how we made the connections between evaluation that is ongoing with ETI, moving it into this and making connections with Every School a Good School so that there is continuity and that we are making what is happening explicit for schools. Andrew and Mr Rogers talked about ICT, for example. We have been told now that the attitudinal survey, for example, will be delivered through the C2k system, so while it is Queen's University that has responsibility for that, children will participate through C2k. To me, the important thing here is not to rush this into an initiative that will be done and dusted in two or three years but, in fact, to have the confidence to look at this as a system-wide development that, after the DSC programme, will continue and the concept of this ultimately being fully integrated into the delivery of the curriculum. That is as fast as I could go.
Mr A Bell: The Minister has also, on a number of occasions, indicated that one of the reasons why he wants to bring forward a shared education Bill is to ensure that the message is very firm that this is part of our system.
The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Thank you, Faustina and Andrew. It has been a lengthy but useful session in exploring the details of this.