The Assembly’s independent auditor, Mr John Dowdall, published a report today on educational performance and provision in Northern Ireland. As the five Education and Library Boards spend 90 per cent of the funding they receive from the Department of Education on schools, this report considers how the Boards and their schools have performed over a range of education services. It compares the performance of the Boards and , where applicable, also shows how this compares with the performance of local education authorities in the UK.
The provision of information on school performance to parents and other partners in education is considered to be key to raising educational standards. However, information on the relative performance of the Boards has not been brought together in a format similar to other parts of the United Kingdom. As a general recommendation, therefore, the report calls on the Department of Education to provide a clear overview of relative Board performance by issuing an annual compendium of performance indicators (paragraph 1.19).
The key messages in this report on education performance indicators are:
Educational Achievement (Part 5 of the Report)
Eight year olds in primary schools across all Boards achieve a high standard of performance at Key Stage 1. At Key Stages 2 and 3 (eleven and fourteen year olds), comparative performance in different Board areas becomes less consistent and some Boards have substantial ground to make up for pupils to achieve the expected standard, particularly at Key Stage 3 (paragraphs 5.5 to 5.12).
At GCSE, the report found that levels of educational achievement are not necessarily lower in more socially deprived areas. Moreover, the range of outcomes between schools can also be substantial. It is important, therefore, that Boards and schools have the opportunity to draw any lessons which may be appropriate from the experience of those which are doing better (paragraphs 5.15 and 5.16).
In general terms the data shows that many 14 year olds are moving into the final phase of their time in the schools system with literacy and numeracy skills which have not met the established standards. In addition, a sizeable number of pupils are leaving the system without qualifications at GCSE level (paragraph 5.18).
Pre-School Places (Part 2 of the Report)
There is a significantly higher level of funded pre-school provision within the Belfast Board compared with the other four Boards. Available data for 1999-2000 also indicates that, the Belfast Board apart, school provision for children under four years of age was more generous within English local authorities than in Northern Ireland (paragraphs 2.2 and 2.3).
Class Sizes in Primary Schools (Part 3 of the Report)
The Boards’ performance in maintaining smaller classes for Key Stage 1 pupils is good. However, a small percentage still remain in classes with more than 30 pupils. Overall, the incidence of large primary school classes (i.e. Key Stages 1 and 2) is also relatively small. By comparison, the percentage of primary school classes with more than 30 pupils is lower in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain (paragraphs 3.2 – 3.4).
School Occupancy Levels (Part 4 of the Report)
Unfilled places within the Boards’ primary and secondary school sectors compare unfavourably with those of English and Welsh education authorities. There are over 23,000 surplus places in 373 of the 825 primary schools in Northern Ireland and over 12,000 surplus places in 119 of the 165 secondary schools (paragraph 4.6 and 4.10).
While surplus places are not a uniquely urban or rural problem they are particularly pronounced in the Belfast Board. Despite the closure of some schools and the merger of others, there remains a mismatch between available school places and pupils. The consequence of this can be that the Boards find themselves heating, cleaning and maintaining buildings which are significantly under-utilised (paragraphs 4.11).
School Suspensions (Part 6 of the Report)
Within secondary schools the percentage of pupils suspended ranged from two per cent to almost six per cent in 1999-2000. The Belfast Board has a very high percentage of suspensions within its secondary schools, particularly in the controlled sector. However, suspension rates in percentage terms are also high within the maintained sector in the Southern, Western and South Eastern Boards, particularly when compared with their controlled counterparts (paragraphs 6.4 and 6.5).
Special Needs Education (Part 7 of the Report)
A recently implemented Code of Practice recognises that the needs of most pupils will be met in mainstream schools, without a statutory assessment or a statement. A statement is a legal document which explains a child’s needs and the provision that will be made to meet those needs. The highest level of statementing is in the South-Eastern Board where the level of statements issued has, on occasion, been almost twice that of the North-Eastern Board (paragraphs 7.1 and 7.3).
Under the Code of Practice there is a target for all Boards to prepare draft statements for children with special educational needs within 18 weeks. The report found that most Boards are still developing their systems for collecting data on the percentage of draft statements that are prepared within the 18 week target. It is important that targets are met by the Boards as waiting to see how a Board intends to address a child’s special educational needs can be stressful for families and detrimental to progress (paragraphs 7.5 and 7.6).
Spending on Education (Part 8 of the Report)
Information on spending is only up to 1998-99 as this was the latest data available. This information shows that per capita spending has fallen for some Boards in the nursery and primary sectors in the three years up to 1998-99. However, there has been a more general decline in spending in real terms within the secondary sector. Unit cost differences between and within Boards should be used as a basis for further analysis and linked with academic results and other contextual factors to develop a sharper understanding of Board performance (paragraphs 8.11 and 8.12).
Notes for editors
- The Comptroller and Auditor General is Head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (the Audit Office). He, and the NIAO, are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of Government Departments and a range of other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to report to the Northern Ireland Assembly on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and public bodies use their resources. His reports are published as Assembly papers.
- The Comptroller and Auditor General's report on Indicators of Educational Performance and Provision is published as NIA 48/01 of Session 2001-2002 and is available from the Stationery Office throughout the United Kingdom. The report is embargoed until 00.01 hrs on Thursday 21 February 2002.
- Background briefing can be obtained by contacting Barry Edgar (028 90251122) or Sean McKay (028 90251075).