Area Planning – Terms of Reference
Area Planning – Terms of Reference - 15 December 2011
In his Statement to the Assembly, on 26 September 2011, the Education Minister, John O’Dowd MLA, highlighted the need to move forward with the implementation of the Sustainable School Policy and the process of strategic planning on an area basis.
The Minister has made it clear that, against the backdrop of an extremely challenging financial landscape in the coming years, progress on reshaping the structure and pattern of education provision can not be delayed. This work is at the core of the raising standards agenda which can only be delivered efficiently and effectively through a network of strong, sustainable schools that command the confidence of the communities they serve.
The Minister has indicated that, until such times as the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) is established, the existing statutory bodies must work together to deliver a more strategic area-based approach to planning the delivery of education.
The Minister is commissioning the Education and Library Boards, working in close conjunction with CCMS and engaging extensively with other school sectors, to develop collective strategic plans on an area basis.
The focus will be on developing a planned network of viable and sustainable schools capable of delivering effectively the revised curriculum and the Entitlement Framework and of providing adequate access to a range of educational provision appropriate to the needs of the children and young people in an area. It will therefore be essential that a broad vision of the type and scale of education provision required to meet the future needs is agreed, encompassing the various models to do so.
The exercise will cover the provision of all grant-aided primary and post-primary schools of all management types in each of the five Education and Library Board areas. At this stage, it does not apply to pre-school provision.
The plan must cover the entirety of primary and post-primary provision within the Board area and must take account of cross boundary issues. However if there are issues arising from the Viability Audit or the Formal Intervention Programme that require early action the Boards should put in place an action plan to protect the interests of the pupils in advance of full area plan being available. Decision to move in advance of the area plan being drawn up and approved should be based on robust evidence and the professional opinion of the Education and Library Boards, following engagement with CCMS and the other sectors where applicable.
To support the SEN Review and, in recognition of the regional nature of the highly specialised facilities required to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children in our society, the process will examine the pattern of free standing Special School provision
The Minister has requested that the initial focus should be on post-primary provision, including the delivery of viable 6th form provision and the pattern of free standing special school.
In taking forward this work the Boards and CCMS must ensure that their assessment takes account of the Department’s commitments in the Programme for Government, and supports the implementation of, the Departmental policies, in particular Sustainable Schools; ESaGS; the revised curriculum and the Entitlement Framework; Count, Read: Succeed; Irish Medium Review and the SEN Review. It should also take account of commitments outlined in the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent legislation in relation to Integrated and Irish medium provision. (This list of policies is not exhaustive.) Throughout the process the principles of promoting equality of opportunity and good relations should be adhered to.
The work should also reflect the prevailing financial climate and the centrality of financial viability and stability going forward and that the minimum number of enrolled pupils needed to secure future financial stability may be higher than the minimum thresholds set out in the Sustainable Schools Policy.
Following initial engagement with the Boards and CCMS, detailed guidance will be issued by the Department covering the area planning process. For illustrative purposes the likely stages are as follows:-
Stage 1 – Prepare an area profile, outlining current provision in the area using robust and verifiable data.
Stage 2 – Examine the current viability and future sustainability of existing provision in line with the relevant DE policies, taking account of the Viability Audit Report.
Stage 3 – Anticipate future need by sector using robust and verifiable data.
Stage 4 - Identify under or over provision by sector in the area taking account of cross boundary flows.
Stage 5 – Identify options to address under or over provision by sector taking account of cross boundary flows which deliver viable and sustainable schools.
Stage 6 – Produce an area plan of education provision to meet future demand.
Stage 7 - Submit the draft area plan to the Department for consideration and approval to proceed to public consultation.
Stage 8 - Consideration of consultation responses, finalisation of area plan for submission to the Department for approval.
In delivering an area plan the Boards, working with CCMS and engaging extensively with other school sectors should take account of the guidance issued by the Department and seek to fulfil the following aims/objectives to:-
- ensure a network of sustainable schools, within reasonable travelling distance for pupils and capable of delivering effectively the revised curriculum and, in post-primary schools, the Entitlement Framework;
- identify and meet the needs of all children and young people in the area;
- enhance the quality of provision and raise standards;
- reduce the number of surplus places;
- reduce duplication of provision;
- identify realistic, innovative and creative solutions to address need, including opportunities for shared schooling on a cross sectoral basis;
- maximise the use and sharing of the existing schools estate;
- identify potential for co-location of mainstream and special schools;
- take full account of appropriate and relevant FE Sector provision for 14-19 year olds; and
- explore opportunities for cross border planning.
Each Board should present to the Department of Education a draft area plan which:-
- reflects Departmental policies and priorities;
- delivers all aforementioned the objectives; and
- ratified by the Education and Library Board and CCMS.
Given the size of the cohort of pupils requiring stand alone special schools and the regional nature of this provision, the Minister has requested that this area is prioritised and plans are submitted to the Department by end February 2012*.
The initial plan covering post-primary provision, including 6th form provision, should be submitted to the Department of Education not later than end March 2012*.
The plan covering the primary provision should be submitted not later than end June 2012*.
* These dates are indicative at the moment and will be subject to discussion with the Education and Library Boards.
The Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986 (Articles 5 and 6) outlines the duty of the Education and Library Boards to secure efficient and sufficient provision of primary and secondary education within the board area to meet the needs of all pupils.
Additionally, Article 142 of the Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 places a subsidiary statutory duty on CCMS to promote and co-ordinate the planning of the effective provision of Catholic maintained schools.
Other School Sectors
The trustees and Boards of Governors of grant-maintained integrated schools, voluntary grammar schools and other voluntary maintained schools, including Irish medium schools, and the relevant sectoral bodies will also have an important contribution to make to this process. It will be a requirement of the process for the Boards to engage and seek input from these sectors.
Department of Education
The Department of Education will set the policy context, provide advice and guidance on the process and will consider and, if satisfied, approve the area plans following consultation on the draft area plans.