A SINGLE Education and Skills Authority (ESA) would give republicans too much power over Northern Ireland’s schooling system, it has been claimed.
Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan said he was opposed to the new authority being set up to replace five regional education and library boards because it could allow Sinn Fein too much influence over grammar schools.
Mr Kinahan, MLA for South Antrim, said: “We know that Sinn Fein don’t like grammar schools. We know that Sinn Fein don’t like the power of the church and to some extent it seems, the maintained sector. We know they don’t like the voluntary grammar sector, they don’t like the Dickson plan.
“In fact, anything that is good and is successful they don’t seem to like it. We do need this bill but there is much more that we need and we have got to get it right. We need a proper long-term strategy – an agreed strategy and policies and plans that all fit together.
“We have ongoing at the moment the Entitlement Framework coming in; common funding formula being reviewed; special education needs legislation; the new assessment coming on board; area planning . . . and looming behind it all the spectre of a cross-border dimension.
“This bill is a licence for Sinn Fein to destroy our education system.”
Legislation to establish the ESA had its second reading at Stormont yesterday.
Mr Kinahan said he believed the new bill would give an education minister too many chances to overrule, override and force change through.
He added: “In a few years we could have a complete change around in politics and education could fall into the hands of a manic, driven, crazy fanatic and he or she could set about destroying all the schools to her or his agenda.”
The bill contains proposals for the creation of independent tribunals to resolve disputes between schools and the ESA, which will have the power to set guidelines for schools.
The First and Deputy First Minister’s Office will have a role in appointing tribunals should any disputes arise.
School governors will retain the right to set their own admissions criteria. Many schools have continued to use academic selection despite the Education Department officially abolishing it.
The bill also outlines plans for the ESA, the management of grant-aided schools, school inspections, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) as well as the protection of children and young people.
The creation of the ESA is part of the Review of Public Administration (RPA), a reform programme aimed at reducing bureaucracy and streamlining public services.
Stormont education committee chairman Mervyn Storey said officials had told him the estimated savings were in the region of £40 million.
Education Minister John O’Dowd said: “This bill threatens no one. It offers accountability, autonomy, to all schools, not just a few.
“It does not change or detract from the identity or values of any school.
“It does however challenge schools to improve, put the needs of learners before the needs of the institution and to work in partnership for the greater good of all our young people.”