Education body ‘risk averse’ and ‘defensive’

The Education Authority (EA) is too “defensive” and “risk averse”, a new report has found.

By Niall Deeney
Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 9:31 pm

The EA was set up back in 2015 to replace the former regional education and library boards that were formerly responsible for the running of schools in Northern Ireland.

The new 170-page report, produced for the Department of Education at Stormont by the accountancy and business advisory firm Baker Tilly Mooney Moore, was highly critical of the way the schools body is run.

It found that there is “confusion” about what the Education Authority’s purpose is amongst its own staff and “more broadly across the wider education system”, that its “engagement” with schools is “not effective”, and that people outside the organisation hold the view that its “decision making is “bureaucratic and slow, can be risk averse, inflexible and not always effective”.

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While many of the report’s “key findings” were highly criticial of the EA, it did note some improvement in recent years.

Responding to the report, the EA chief executive Sara Long said: “The review highlights the context and challenges faced from the merging of five boards into a new Education Authority in 2015; recognises the improvement journey the EA has been on since then; and identifies a number of areas where further progress can be made.

“The review also fully recognises the operating context of the EA, including our relatively recent existence; the significant period under interim arrangements; the scale and complexities of what EA delivers as Northern Ireland’s largest employing authority with over 44,000 staff; the many challenges the Covid-19 pandemic presented; as well as the increasing and diverse needs of children and young people.”

She continued: “We acknowledge that there are numerous opportunities for improvement that this report will help to inform.

“There is a need to improve communications and responsiveness; to better meet the expectations of EA’s many stakeholders; and to continue to make our services more child-centred.”

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said: “My department is fully committed to working with the EA to progress the issues identified in the report, and to shape the continuing improvement of the organisation.

Officials in the department and the EA are already developing implementation plans, informed by the report’s recommendations, to respond to the issues raised.”