Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Committee for Education, meeting on Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Peter Weir (Chairperson)
Mrs S Overend (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Craig
Mr D Kennedy
Mr Trevor Lunn
Mr N McCausland
Ms M McLaughlin
Mr Robin Newton


Mr Michael Graham, Council for Catholic Maintained Schools
Mr Gerry Lundy, Council for Catholic Maintained Schools

Shared Education Bill: Council for Catholic Maintained Schools

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I welcome Mr Gerry Lundy, deputy chief executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), and Mr Michael Graham, senior educational adviser. I will mention this to all the groups today: we have five presentations to get through and are trying to give everybody a fair shake. We will therefore limit each evidence session to a maximum of 40 minutes; it may be that it does not have to go on that long. I invite Gerry to start with an initial briefing, and then we will take questions.

Mr Gerry Lundy (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools): Thank you, Chair. Good morning, members. I propose giving quite a short presentation. I will talk at a high level, and my colleague, Michael, will complete the presentation by giving some detail on how shared education models operate in practice. Members may be interested in that.

We welcome the opportunity to comment on the Bill and, indeed, the introduction of a Shared Education Bill, as we think that it can bring some stability to the arena of shared education. By way of background, we at CCMS have been involved as a managing authority, but our schools, principally, have been involved in what can be identified as shared education since around 2006. I noted those initiatives in our written submission. This area of work has seen significant growth in activity, particularly through the new Delivering Social Change programme on shared education project, which launched this year, and the circular from the Department of Education on jointly managed church schools. There is a lot of independent work going on, undertaken by partnerships of proactive schools. We see many examples of schools engaging in shared learning and collaborative delivery, particularly of the curriculum, between and across sectors. We should not underestimate the impact and the success of area learning communities in moving the shared education agenda forward.

We included in our written submission an appendix giving some high-level statistical information on the level of involvement. One of the most important things that we have established over the past nine or 10 years is that the best and most meaningful work is done by schools at a local level, as part of a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down imposition. On that point, where we see the need for and the benefit of, legislation is that in some areas schools may need encouragement and facilitation to move things forward. They may feel that they need the support of the managing authority. The Bill allows CCMS as a statutory body to become more proactively involved in encouraging and facilitating this.

I would like to make some comments on the Bill. We note the duty on the Education Authority (EA) in clause 1(1)(b) to "encourage, facilitate and promote shared education". We see that duty aligned with the policy, but it is not qualified in any way. While we have no concern about the Education Authority having a duty to promote, we have a slight concern that at a time of restricted resources it may be necessary to consider some qualification of the duty to promote by aligning it with the effective and efficient use of resources.

As we are all well aware, our communities live in divided housing. Many schools in the Catholic sector are clearly located in a single-identity community and are not in a strong position to bid for shared educational experiences or, in particular, the shared education campus programme. We feel that the duty to promote may, at times, need to be qualified by resource considerations, and I can respond to questions on that. We feel that the priority at all times should be raising standards and providing high-quality, sustainable and viable opportunities for young people that lead to better educational and societal outcomes.

I want to move on to the definition of shared education in the Bill. We welcome the move to provide such a definition, as there are lots of definitions about. We have been proposing a discussion of all those concepts for some time — what do we mean by integration and sharing in education? — so that we have a shared understanding, particularly at an authority level. While the proposed definition in the Bill is a very high-level definition, we believe that it provides a firm framework within which managing authorities and schools can further develop the delivery of shared education. Because the definition is high-level, it is flexible rather than restrictive, and we see that as an advantage.

We support the widening of the definition to include the educating together of those who are experiencing significant social deprivation and those who are not. There are many schools that, because of their location, do not have a real opportunity of doing something meaningful with a school from another sector. The logistics can be very complicated. We believe, therefore, that the definition will allow schools to share better and allow the authority to promote that sharing better.

Looking at the changing population of our schools in many areas, we think that consideration needs to be given at a future time to a specific reference to those who have come to Northern Ireland from different countries and cultures. We have a significant percentage of schools that now have a very high percentage of newcomers in their cohort of students.

We also welcome the definition of providers and the inclusion of CCMS in the list of bodies to which the power to encourage and facilitate shared education is to be assigned. As I said, we believe that shared education initiatives are most successful when they are driven from the bottom up. However, naming us as one of the bodies gives us a legislative basis for playing a proactive leadership role in the development of shared education so that we can challenge some of our schools that we feel may need to be involved but are not perhaps availing themselves of the opportunities. We certainly would not want to exercise the power in a very authoritarian way, but we think it would be important for us to be able to do that and to have it on a legislative basis.

Shared education is a healthy, organic growth that, with support, will continue to develop in a sustainable way. It has become a key feature. I will now pass you over to my colleague, Michael, who will outline briefly the high-level points of a shared education initiative in the North Eastern Board that has been very successful: the partnership, inclusion, reconciliation, citizenship and history (PIRCH) project.

Mr Michael Graham (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools): In our main submission, we made reference to the fact that, over the past seven or eight years, there has been a lot of intensive work in shared education. There has also been a lot of learning, because, as Gerry said, there have been various definitions and interpretations of what shared education is, which is a bit of a concern to me. I think that we are now beginning to focus and to make things more succinct.

I worked for the North Eastern Board for a number of years, and we had what we considered to be two of the most direct and proactive shared education models in operation, going back maybe over the last four or five years. We had a primary model there as well that some of you may have heard of: the primary integrating/enriching education (PIEE) project. I was from a post-primary background. One of the things that I led on was the delivery of the partnership, inclusion, reconciliation, citizenship and history project, which you may also have heard of. It is a model that sought to work with larger schools. The PIEE project at primary level had come about in partial response to the sustainable schools policy, in that it was applicable to, and open to, schools of fewer than 105 kids. The PIRCH project, which Gerry mentioned, was to take things on a stage. At that time, there was a notion that perhaps shared education was more deliverable among very small schools with small numbers of children and small numbers of teachers.

The PIRCH project was the complete opposite. It was an attempt — in some ways, an experimental attempt — and learning process to get into the realms of how shared education could work between larger institutions and post-primary schools with, in some cases, 50 or 60 teachers and 600 or 700 children a school. That is where the PIRCH project differed significantly from other similar educational initiatives. Maybe it was the nature of who I am or my particular working context at that time, but there was a lot of talk about journeys and capacity building. The PIRCH project unashamedly decided that we would take a very direct line and move quickly into the mechanics — the nuts and bolts, daily routines, practices and practicalities — of what shared education means.

The then North Eastern Education and Library Board's PIRCH project was funded through the International Fund for Ireland and featured six pairs of post-primary schools. Most people in the room could probably name some of them, but I will name a few of them to give an adequate picture of what it looked like. In the town of Ballymoney, we had Ballymoney High School and Our Lady of Lourdes; in Ballycastle, we had Cross and Passion College and Ballycastle High School; and, in Coleraine, we had St Joseph's College and Coleraine College. That was replicated, so we had six pairs of post-primary schools in Coleraine, Ballymoney, Ballycastle, Antrim, Ballymena and Magherafelt.

We were talking about large numbers of children and teachers. With those six pairs of post-primary schools, we delivered a project that touched upon the professional lives of 160 teachers across 12 schools and the lives of approximately 6,500 young people over a sustained period of almost three years. So shared education became something that young people not only experienced but got used to as a regular, recognised and natural part of their educational experience.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Thank you, Michael. A number of folk will want to come in with questions.

Mr Graham: I anticipated that.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): A few folk want in, but I would like clarification on one issue. In terms of the qualification of the duty, do you see that, primarily or exclusively, simply as a restriction on the resource and logistics side of it? Do you see any other qualifications?

Mr Lundy: A duty to promote is a duty to actively develop, aid and assist; that is what we are looking at. We have no issue with that, but the duty brings a legal obligation. At a very basic level, choices may have to be made as to when a decision on the allocation of resources is being made for resourcing support for a curricular programme for literacy support or resourcing a programme for shared education, for example. We feel that a duty may give a legal obligation to allocate the resources to shared education. It is really about how it operates in practice as opposed to —

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): What is specifically in the legislation.

Mr Lundy: Yes, what is specifically in the legislation. That is the only example. It is just to get management of that type of thing. We have very tight resources, and hard decisions are being made in the current economic climate. That may pose a difficulty that needs to be managed.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): It is useful to clarify that.

Mr Lunn: Thanks, Gerry and Michael. First, it is nice to agree with you about something, because the duty to promote irritates those of us who feel that the same duty should apply to a different sector. Is it fair to say that CCMS is fully committed to the sharing process? I do not ask that to be unkind but because my impression down the years and perhaps that of other people has been that you could almost have put "fortress" in front of CCMS as there was a "What we have we hold" attitude. I am sure that it is not completely true, but that is the impression. Is there full commitment to sharing and to the jointly managed church schools, where appropriate?

Mr Lundy: The short answer is yes, Trevor. We have to look at what we have done over the past 10 years or more in shared education. We have, in a sense, created a framework within which we provide guidance for our schools about what CCMS may or may not support for shared education campus bids, which is linked to sustainability criteria. Particularly in the area planning framework, we have been very clear with our schools that we want them to bring forward proposals and that they are open to proposals for shared education solutions to sustainability issues. We have fully participated in all the initiatives in respect of PIEE and PIRCH, as Michael said. Indeed, in the recent shared education campus announcements, CCMS has engaged in full partnership working with our former board colleagues — now our EA colleagues — in the delivery of all those campuses. We have been very proactive when we have been required to be and been asked to be, and we have encouraged schools to bid for these. Yes, we are completely committed to this, and a definition of shared education based on a number of providers collaborating gives us the absolute comfort to be able to do that.

At the moment, we see jointly managed church schools as having significant potential in a small number of areas, Trevor. However, we are, unfortunately, at the very early stages of development, and we have identified, from the Catholic sector side, a couple of areas where we believe that a jointly managed church school can provide a strong, viable solution for the communities that the existing schools serve, particularly in two areas where we have two schools from each sector suffering significant sustainability challenges. There are discussions going on between the transferors and the trustees of those schools to explore the jointly managed church schools initiative as a route forward. We believe that, because that is a church-based proposal, the churches need to be heavily involved in the driving of it. We are very open to doing that and, indeed, are providing a resource to the discussions around that, Trevor.

Mr Lunn: I have one more question. Some of the people who are keen to see shared education grow acknowledge that, in the words of some of the documentation that we have seen, shared education is at the bottom, integrated education is at the top, and it is a continuum. A lot of people see that if shared education really works it may lead some situations to move towards integrated, a coming together and amalgamation but to the disappearance in some areas of separate schools and to Catholic schools and what you might perceive as Protestant schools coming together. That is where I have a doubt that you are really open to that; it could be "Thus far and no further". What do you think?

Mr Lundy: I can only comment on my experience in dealing with the attitude of CCMS and the committees to this. In one shared campus project where we had a bid endorsed last year and again for this year's second round, there are two small schools, each with about 55, 60 or 70 pupils, bidding for a shared campus, a facility that is a significant advance on where the communities were 10 years ago. The discussion around the CCMS committee, which is captured in the minutes of the education provision committee, is, "Yes, this is a solution at this time, but could we really see that, in five or 10 years' time, this campus will be running with two principals and two staffs teaching 120 pupils?". The view of the committee was that surely this is an initiative that should have the potential to evolve into a single school. That captures the council committee's formal discussion on that. We believe that there should be no barrier to that. I believe that the jointly managed church school model significantly facilitates and liberates that discussion.

Mr Craig: Gerry, good to see you again. You are absolutely right: a lot of this stuff will evolve from the bottom up. It is good that there is encouragement and a facilitating exercise from yourselves now. I have had both good and bad experiences of this. Laurelhill and St Patrick's are in an area learning community and are jointly hosting A levels. That works well, but it was facilitated by both schools wanting to do it. Unfortunately, at the other end of the town, I have had a bad experience of shared transport of all things. I have to be honest with you that it was the maintained sector that was resistant to that being facilitated, but we seem to have got over most of the hiccups there.

Gerry, I listened closely to you speak of your ideals of promoting. We all have a misapprehension that shared education is solely about sharing between sectors. That is an important aspect of it, but I can also think of several locations around our own constituency where 60% or 70% of a smaller school's budget is taken up by one or two in the management end of things. There is more potential in existing sectors to share management across existing schools and reduce those facilities' overhead costs and running costs. That is also an important aspect of the sharing agenda. Will CCMS look closely at that aspect? I suspect that that is a big issue for you, maybe not in Lagan Valley but in other areas.

Mr Lundy: Yes, we have been considering that for some time. The concept of having a senior management team and funding all of that in nine or 10 schools, even in one sector, that work so closely together does not seem to be the best and most effective use of resources. We have made study visits to academies and federations in England, where the legislation allows you to have an overarching board of governors and an executive principal or director across six or seven schools, but with each school having a director of learning who is responsible for the quality of each individual unit and the quality of outcomes. We believe that that requires change to legislation.

A piece of work looking at area planning was done through the strategic forum four or five years ago when the ESA experiment — to use that word — and all those discussions were under way. At that time, there was an exploration of what can be done under the existing legislation. It is remarkable how much can be done under existing legislation, as it is possible for two schools to establish and delegate from their boards of governors to a subcommittee to run the shared learning, the cross-sectoral work or whatever it happens to be. They can delegate significant powers, including appointments; they can also delegate finance and some curriculum responsibilities. A lot of work was done.

Those models exist and, indeed, are under discussion as part of the shared education campuses' facilities. So CCMS sees significant merit in changing the legislation to create greater availability and variety of models of governance. Under the legislation, CCMS has set up one board of governors to govern three primary schools. That brings efficiencies of governance in a rural area. It would be significantly more efficient if you could use that model to have one principal, but the current legislation requires us to have a principal for each of the three schools. So, yes, we would see significant benefit in having a greater flexibility of models for that, Jonathan.

Mr Craig: I take it from what you are saying that you will be happy to buy into it if the legislation encourages you or tells you to encourage these types of new structures and that you will encourage whatever you can under the existing legislation. I have no doubt that the Minister is listening to what is being said about those other changes. It is important that we try to do as much as we can around that, despite the legislative situation.

Mr Lundy: I think that there is flexibility under the existing legislation to move this forward much further than we have moved it at this stage.

Mrs Overend: Thank you very much for coming this morning. Trevor touched on what I wanted to ask: your thoughts on the debate about the aims of shared education and where we are going with shared education models. How should the success of shared education be assessed? Should there be incentives to progress to more shared education so that it does not become tokenistic?

Mr Lundy: At the moment, as the Committee will be aware, an inspection model for shared education is being developed. Recent inspection reports outline where schools are along a continuum of shared education. We believe that that is advantageous in the sense of ensuring that shared education becomes a fundamental part of the planning of a school and that it is to be evaluated. It is being evaluated, at the moment, but, as I understand it, it is not being used to impact upon the judgement of the band or outcome of the inspection. We have had discussions with the inspectorate team that has been taking this forward. We believe that the inspection regime should evaluate how a school is performing.

When we look at the requirement under school development planning, we believe that shared education, as a fundamental part of school development planning, should be a requirement. Indeed, an authority with the power to encourage and facilitate could then look at school development plans. Schools have an obligation to provide us with their school development plans, and we have the right to evaluate and comment on them. If we have the power to facilitate and encourage shared education, we could evaluate those and revert to schools where, perhaps, it is an area of activity not on the school's radar. As a managing authority, we can begin to influence schools significantly in that regard by using a school development planning process, which has a statutory basis.

We have to be cautious about making the move from shared education as a reporting element in an inspection to something that is used to evaluate whether a school is a good school or an outstanding school. It is difficult to do that at this point because we are still evolving that, Sandra.

Mrs Overend: Should we include the ideal of promoting shared education in other educational decisions? Would you consider bringing shared education into other considerations with regard to education policy?

Mr Lundy: Obviously, a policy for shared education has been published. Strategic policies give a framework within which schools operate. Schools are very busy places. There are significant demands on their leadership, their teachers and all of their staff. Schools have to prioritise what they do, given the plethora of policies that come to them. It is important to make schools aware of what the policies are and be proactive about that.

I will give you an example. When a policy is approved, the CCMS immediately circularises all of its schools and asks them to draw attention to and take account of that policy. What schools prioritise and do about it is then up to them and their boards of governors. It is a balance between being very directive and encouraging schools to embrace a policy. I think that they will embrace a policy when they see significant benefit arising from it for the young people they serve.

Mrs Overend: What I mean is that when you are thinking about employing teachers or delivering subjects, you think primarily about the curriculum and the school. Should shared education come into the thought process when schools make such policy decisions?

Mr Lundy: If, in practice, you have a strong shared education model operating between schools — whether it is a curriculum model or one of social, economic, cross-community balance and all of those things — then a mature partnership and arrangement would be that schools should be looking at their staffing model and saying, "Well, why should I be employing a music teacher or a science teacher when, actually, that aspect of the curriculum is being delivered through my shared education arrangement with my partner school?". There are schools, albeit very few, that are moving towards this. The policy is encouraging them to say, "Resources are tight. My partner school has a very high-quality science department. Why should I continue to staff a science department to teach post-16 science pupils in my school when they can all go to my partner school?".

I think that schools are getting to the stage that the policy is informing the resource decisions they make in the best interest of all children within the arena. If the best expertise for delivery is in a particular school, why would another school not avail itself of that? It can then use the resources that that frees up to widen the curriculum and provide a different specialism for their school partner. That is what we need.

Mrs Overend: How do you challenge the schools that do not have that set-up to progress towards doing that? Is that something that you want to encourage?

Mr Lundy: There have been developments as schools work on shared education campuses. They are getting into detailed service level agreements about how they handle some of the issues around that. Ultimately, an individual school's leadership and governance are accountable for the standards and outcomes achieved by the young people they serve. You get into difficult decisions about competency and how you satisfy yourself and deal with some of the HR and performance issues that may arise when responsibility for outcomes in a particular area has been delegated to another school, which is perhaps not performing or where there is a gap in standards. However, schools are now in the situation of having mature discussions about that, and we need to make sure that the legislation facilitates them doing that. I think that a lot of progress has been made.

Mr Newton: First, welcome. We spend most of our time talking about Protestant and Catholic schools, but the Bill also looks at socio-economic situations, which is an area that I am particularly keen to see addressed. May I ask for some comments around that? In reply to Mr Lunn, you indicated that there was an initiative; you said that it was initially from the Church and then said "Churches" but that numbers were a problem. Will you expand on that?

Mr Lundy: Yes. Because the jointly managed church school is in a faith-based system, there needs to be discussions between the main Churches about establishing such a school. You cannot set up a jointly managed church school unless the Churches are involved in the discussions. We have identified two, potentially, although there may be others. We reverted to the diocese and particular bishop who is in conversation with the Transferors about the potential of establishing a jointly managed church school.

We were looking at closing our school or amalgamating with another Catholic school. It was clear, because of the relationships between it and a small controlled school that was experiencing similar difficulties — they might not have thought that, but that was how it looked from our perspective — that there was potential to form a jointly managed church school and retain a school for the community within that village. The CCMS cannot do it, because we do not have any responsibility for jointly managed church schools. We initiated discussions, through the Churches, about exploring the potential and, perhaps, bringing this to fruition, but it has to be led and driven with the ownership of the Churches, because they, and not the CCMS, would be setting up the school. It would not be a Catholic maintained school that would be created through that initiative.

We support the socio-economic aspect of the Bill. A number of schools are not in a position to fully participate in a cross-community and cross-sectoral approach, but we welcome having the support of the legislation to engage with a school in the same sector and create a greater social mix and social inclusion in an area. The power of the CCMS to facilitate and encourage that gives us the opportunity to advocate that.

A large primary school is a busy place. Our schools are generally successful because the governors and leadership take ownership of them. To ask them then to take responsibility for a wider community served by other schools that may be in competition with them is a change in mindset and quite a leap in terms of our system. The definition allows those discussions to take place. We believe that many schools are willing to do that, so we welcome that aspect of the definition.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Gerry and Michael, thank you for your evidence. It was very useful. This is an issue that is coming swiftly to a conclusion, but it has been a useful session.

Mr Lundy: If the Committee wishes to have some of the documentation that sets out the governance arrangements that are available, I can have that supplied.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Anything you want to send us will be welcome.

Mr Lundy: That was put together by a working group from the unions, the CCMS and the controlled schools.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Some of those things will not be just to inform us directly as regards the legislation but will be helpful as we move ahead with the broader implementation of these issues. Thank you very much.

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