Question Time: Education Tuesday 03 November 2015

Minister of Education, John O’Dowd, was asked for his assessment of post-primary transfer arrangements for year 7 pupils during today’s Question Time. The Minister revealed that of the 21,000 pupils transferred from primary to post-primary schools in September 2015, 99.4% of pupils were placed in a school of their choice, with 86.7% being admitted to their first-preference school. The framework that has been in place since 2010 strongly recommends that schools do not use criteria related to academic ability and recommends a menu of non-academic admissions criteria including giving priority to children in receipt of free school meals, those with a sibling currently attending the school, and applicants who are the eldest child. Mr O’Dowd added “it is my belief that the transfer process, as experienced by parents and children, would be much fairer if all schools followed the Department’s guidance and ceased the use of academic selection and rejection for admission into schools.”

Patsy McGlone then asked the Minister what steps he is taking to ensure the health and well-being of teachers. The Minister confirmed “I am aware of the health and well-being issues that are faced by teachers in our schools and the importance of addressing them if we are to retain a committed, motivated and healthy teaching workforce.” While the health and well-being of teachers rests with their employers and board of governors, a number of measures have been introduced to support the schools. They include the development of a strategy for teachers’ health and well-being; a policy statement on tackling violence and abuse against teachers; a workload agreement; a teachers’ attendance procedure, which includes a new provision for the recording of incidences of work-related stress; an independent 24-hour confidential telephone counselling service for all teachers provided by Carecall; a flexible working scheme; a job-share scheme; a career break scheme; temporary variations of contracts; and a policy statement on planning, preparation and assessment time.

During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on delivering social change, the Holywood multi-schools project and key stage 3 assessments. During the topical question period Mr O’Dowd also answered questions on the creation of the controlled schools sectoral support body, accommodation at Kilronan Special School, Edenderry nursery school and school guidance for transgender pupils.