The 2015 NI Education Review 

As I get ready for a New Year, I thought I’d reflect on 2015.

2015 in some ways will be remembered as the year of hard knocks. Tough decisions were taken by DE due to belt tightening at the Department of Finance.

At the beginning of April, the new Education Authority was born. The EA and it’s five regions – replaced the five regional boards… We were warned of first day issues… Throughout the remainder of this year we have all been learning what they are.

The Education Authority had to make cuts in its budget from £405m in 2014/15 to £396.6m in 2015/16.

As a result number of things were forced to go…

Languages were deemed of less importance. 86 teachers providing primary language support to primary schools were made redundant at the end of March. This went against the wave of investment in languages in other parts of the UK.

The loss of the signature project for Literacy and Numeracy was a huge blow. Over 200 teachers were made redundant and thousands of pupils were affected by the loss of additional support.

Non teaching board staff were further reduced and offers of unpaid leave for up to four weeks were given.

Buildings and maintenance budget were like a well known Disney film from April – Frozen!

As schools struggled to maintain the fabric of the educational estate – a few schools exposed to the media the Departmental neglect of it’s properties.

Thankfully, the November monitoring did begin to put money back into the budget for school repair and SEN.

A Twitter chat also saw the rumour of Phase 2 Literacy and Numeracy Signature Project after the the success of the GCSE results of those who had engaged with it.

The folks on the hill

Three main topics appeared to occupy the politicians apart from the budget.

Shared Education

Shared Education became a hot topic of conversation throughout 2015. Following on from the CRED policy much was to be gained for interested parties. However, in September much debate arose when the loop hole of end of Key Stage data appeared before the funds were issued to participating schools. Many schools took a few steps back and the shared education targets were struggling to be met by November 2015.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Bill was introduced into the Assembly in March 2015. Reading the minutes (yes, I do read them!) from the education committee this bill has been debated at length. 2016 should see legislation becoming law but creative solutions need to be made to our SEN provision to ensure we don’t continue to miss early intervention opportunities with our colleagues in Health.

Addressing Bullying in Schools Bill

The Addressing Bullying in Schools Bill was introduced into the Assembly at the end of November. The Committee Stage of the Bill is underway in December. Implementation without additional resources maybe the challenge of 2016.

Other topics of discussion  

They considered press coverage of the ‘Investigating Links in Achievement and Deprivation’ (ILiAD) research commissioned by the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) and undertaken by Queen’s University, Belfast. Oddly, the report had not reached the Education Committee and therefore no movement was made on the findings.
Hopefully a new task force in 2016 on underachievement will focus our politicians on providing equity of opportunity.

ETI – by special invitation
Early September saw a peak C2k emails being exchanged through the network as school leaders wondered why some but not all had been invited to hear of the changes to inspection on 12 September.

The changes were highlighted by The Chief Inspector of schools who pointed out the benefits to inspection and to how inspection can be used to strengthen self-evaluation and  planning.

Some of those 600 school stakeholders attendees soon received the big envelope in the autumn term and ESAGS.TV recorded a high number of hits as they published a number of videos taking us all through the new system.

#teachmeets grew in popularity with many opportunities arising for the sharing of good practice beyond the classroom. From Belfast to Londonderry – Friday night learning became the talk of the staffroom. It was all about teachers doing CPD for themselves.

The Regional Training Unit took a huge hit losing the annual summer school. Despite months of planning it was pulled in early June.

#niedcamp was created in the wake of the RTU summer school and the 18 August over three hundred teachers attended a free event for teachers by teachers hosted at Stranmillis University College.

This model was rubber stamped by DE in October at the KS2/KS3 teachmeet in Bangor. A new DE strategy for teacher CPD is being created and collaborative sharing of good practice will be encouraged.

2016 will likely bring a growth in teachers seeking professional development outside the Educational Authority. Already a number of schools are engaged in TLS (NI) programmes. These have been designed to increase teacher effectiveness by engaging schools and teachers in building pedagogic skills and classroom practice.

Notable success

Congratulations were in order to a number of schools in October.

A number of educationalists were named in the New Years Honours list and the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Highlighting the commitment of many to the teaching an wider educational professions.

St Patrick’s High School in Keady, County Armagh, was voted best secondary school in the UK in the 2015 TES school awards.

TES Gold awards were given to two Northern Ireland teachers. The former principal of Holy Family Primary School, Dinah MacManus became the TES Primary School Head teacher of the year. Miriam Donnan, vice-principal of Fleming Fulton School in Belfast, was named special needs teacher of the year.

In mid November, C2K invited all principals to the Inspire Event in the Titanic Building to celebrate the profile of ICT in our schools. A number of speakers took centre stage but personally my highlight was Geraldine Donnelley’s speech about e safety and cyber bullying.  Her emotive words resonated with me and many others on the subject.

In the Headlines

As area planning to continued, a number of schools were closed and others amalgamated.

The early years strategy, school starting age, early years pathway funding and more recently a media report into the lack of play in foundation stage all became topics making the news.

Before Christmas, the word was given that those teachers over 55 may be able to retire early. I am sure this will delight many older and unemployed teachers in 2016.

As the year drew to a close, Storm Frank arrived. Ironically, it reminded me of a man called Frank – who occasionally caused a few educational storms, Frank Bunting. He was a champion for the working rights of teachers for over two decades. Sadly he lost his battle against cancer during 2015, but his legacy of creating a storm of action when needed goes on.

2016 will bring many challenges for schools in Northern Ireland. I have no doubts that there will be storms and gale force decisions being made to stay within the 2015/16 – 2016/17 Budget.

So remember in 2016 ….

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain.

Happy New Year


Note… There are many other notable items I could have included please feel free to comment if I have left something out. I know many teachers do amazing things everyday in Northern Ireland for our young people. I know that many teachers never get the recognition they deserve. I know a number of teachers sadly passed away this year but their impact will always live on. Teachers are our nation builders. Never underestimate the role you have in shaping the futures of others.





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