DUP Minister relaxes SF class sharing targets

Education minister Peter Weir. 

Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Education minister Peter Weir. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye

DUP Education Minister Peter Weir has relaxed demanding targets for schools to share resources that were imposed by Sinn Fein.

In September 2015 Sinn Fein introduced the Entitlement Framework (EF) which required all schools, by law, to offer at least 24 courses for GCSE and 27 for A level.

The result was much more collaboration between schools as they struggled to teach enough subjects.

However, the DUP and UUP now agree that school principals are complaining about the pressure of meeting such targets. As a result Mr Weir has now reduced the number of required subjects to 21 for both GCSE and A level.

He said: “This is about recognising the pressure schools are under and accepting that the department should not be micromanaging them.”

A departmental spokeswoman said the minister’s decision “will not preclude schools from continued co-operation and sharing of resources”. In fact his letter to schools reaffirmed his commitment to the EF “and encouraged schools to continue to work in collaboration,” she added.

The letter emphasised that 21 is the minimum number of courses he expects every school to offer.

The department said £4.9m was made available to schools to support the framework in 2016/17. However, this was never designed to be permanent and no budget has been set for 2017/18.

UUP education spokeswoman Sandra Overend MLA welcomed the announcement and said it is an issue “that has been raised with me by a number of school principals at a time when they are being squeezed financially on a continual basis”.

But Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, described it as “an erosion” of shared future precepts.

The EF “blurred the lines between selective and non-selective schools” and ensured children had “the best possible access to a wide range of subjects,” she added.

In a speech to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in 2015, Sinn Fein’s then education minister John O’Dowd said that the EF rendered academic selection at 11 redundant.

“Gone are the days when a test set at 11 set the course of a child’s educational pathway and indeed their career,” he said.

“The Entitlement Framework ensures that every child regardless of what school he or she may attend can access the same curriculum.”

Sinn Fein has not offered any comment.