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Research: Martin Melaugh
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Devolved Government in Northern Ireland
Secretary Assembly Executive Departments Committees North- South British- Irish Conference Civic Forum

Programme for Government

4. INVESTING IN EDUCATION AND SKILLS

4.1

Introduction

Education and training have a central role to play in our Programme for Government, not only for the social and community development of our society, but as a major engine of our economy. The basic right to education opens new opportunities for the individual and aiding personal and community development. It is essential that we equip our young people particularly with the confidence, abilities and values to live their lives to the full and create a stronger, peaceful society. We will focus on:

  • seeking to provide high quality education to all, with equal access for all
  • seeking to ensure that all our young people have the skills and qualifications to gain employment in a modern economy
  • enabling people to update their knowledge, skill and qualifications; and
  • assisting and supporting the socially excluded to enable them to enter or return to the workforce.

4.1.2

Overview

The underlying objective for our education system is to ensure the highest possible standard of education for all children and young people which will motivate them to achieve their potential, build their confidence and enrich their lives. This will in turn help them to enrich the lives of others and provide the foundation for an inclusive society, a strong and vibrant economy and an incentive for lifelong learning. Education can also help people lead healthier lifestyles.

We are undertaking major reviews of the curriculum, of the structure of second-level education and of school funding. In these reviews, and in the wider development of our policies for education and training at all levels, we will draw on best practice elsewhere in the world, but will focus on meeting the specific and distinctive needs of our own young people and our wider society.

The increasing worldwide focus on knowledge as the key to economic growth underlines the need to get our education and skills policies right. Only in this way will we create and secure a competitive economy.

We already have several advantages to help us meet this challenge. We have a young, expanding population; a high proportion of our young people achieving very good GCSE and A level results; and a high rate of participation in third-level education (although too many of our young people are leaving the region because of the shortage of university places).

That said, there are also major problems of low and under-achievement within schools still to be addressed. We have a high proportion of young people who do not achieve in school and they should be given every opportunity to succeed through access to quality higher and further education. Technical and vocational education and training through further and higher education makes a real contribution at individual, community and economic level. There is, however, a need to raise standards, including the quality of buildings and equipment, to the levels which have been achieved in some other countries. There is also concern that current arrangements for student financial support are an impediment to some with the desire and ability to enter Further and Higher Education and to some students completing their courses. In addition, comparative survey evidence shows that a far lower proportion of Northern Ireland employees have received off-the-job training, and average earnings are only 86% of the UK average.

Furthermore, among the existing workforce there is a significant proportion with few or no formal qualifications and with poor standards of literacy and numeracy. It is those without or with very low qualifications, whether new entrants or members of the existing workforce, who are most vulnerable in a rapidly changing, global economy, and who have most difficulty finding better and higher paid jobs.

Significant inroads into the problem of long-term unemployment have been made. On the other hand, increasing inactivity - particularly among older males - combined with continuing relatively lower activity rates among females suggest that impediments to employment remain. Many of the relevant policies, such as tax, lie at the UK level. But we can still make a difference. We must in particular focus on the needs of the long-term unemployed and on areas of high unemployment, including rural areas.

Our challenge is to equip all of our workforce with the skills, education and aptitudes for a global economy in a way which balances the needs of three groups - new entrants to the labour market; those in employment; and those unemployed who seek employment. These skills have to be suited for the opportunities of the next decade, with an emphasis on higher value-added business, built on new technology and skills. This will have a major impact on job creation, as set out in the next chapter.

We need an important emphasis on creativity, in all aspects of our economy, including more traditional sectors such as tourism, to realise the unique talents and abilities of individuals that will be essential to building our new economy.

In this Priority area, EU support will play an important complementary role.

4.2

We will seek to provide high quality education to all, with equal access for all

In order to improve education for all our young people, we need to give them the best possible start by expanding and enriching pre-school provision. We need a curriculum, assessment and examination system fit for the 21st century and we need to target underachievement, raising standards of literacy and numeracy. Long-term strategies must be complemented by urgent action to support schools serving the most disadvantaged catchments and our funding formula must ensure an equitable distribution of resources sensitive to educational and social need. In addition, we will use the agreed agenda for North/South co-operation to focus on the key areas of underachievement, special educational needs, teacher qualifications and exchanges.

Actions

We will implement the following actions:

  • by June 2001, complete the Review of Selection and make decisions on future structures for post-primary education;
  • improve school performance by supporting under?achieving schools, small primary schools and increased out of school learning opportunities;
  • increase the number of teachers trained in ICT and of schools fully participating in Classroom 2000 technology;
  • by 2002/03, provide one year of pre-school education for every child;
  • establish an Education Partnership through which all the education partners can participate directly in developing key education strategies;
  • provide positive and safe learning conditions for young people by tackling bullying and disruptive behaviour; and
  • take forward co-operation in education in the North South Ministerial Council, and specifically to address on a North/South basis educational underachievement and special educational needs and to facilitate the mobility of teachers and school, youth and teacher exchanges.

4.3

We will seek to ensure that all our young people have the skills and qualifications to gain employment in a modern economy

Along with our neighbours to the south, we have one of the youngest populations in Europe. It is vital that we make the best possible use of our schools system, further education and training sector, universities and other resources for learning such as libraries and agricultural colleges if our young people are to be properly prepared for their futures. This includes the need for a focus on individual creativity. We also must counter the emergence of the 'digital divide' and explore ways of equipping those living in the most disadvantaged areas to exploit opportunities of technology.

Actions

We will implement the following actions:

  • by March 2002, improve ICT and other facilities in Further Education colleges so that we will provide 1 networked PC per 5 students in 17 colleges and complete initial PFI tests for at least one major building project;
  • by September 2001, develop an action plan to promote greater integration of entrepreneurship and education;
  • by March 2002, increase the proportion of the workforce in agriculture holding vocational qualifications at NVQ Level 3 or higher to 9%;
  • in October 2001, initiate a pilot scheme for the development of Foundation Degrees in Northern Ireland;
  • during 2001/02, working with the private sector, enhance university research under the Support Programme for University Research (SPUR) initiative;
  • extend existing plans for 4,200 additional undergraduate places by 2004 at the University of Ulster and Queen's University, Belfast to 4,400 places by 2004;
  • give early and full consideration to the outcome of the Student Support Review;
  • invest in the development of Further Education staff to improve standards and student achievement of full or unit passes at NVQ levels 2 to 4 by 5% over 2000/01;
  • by September 2001, develop an action plan to identify the opportunities for the enhancement and development of individual creativity; and
  • from 2001, assist Youth Service providers to extend access for socially disadvantaged children and young people, including those with severe learning disabilities.

4.4

We will provide lifelong learning opportunities to enable people to update their knowledge, skill and qualifications

Individuals must have access to continuing education and training, including up-to-date learning resources, to maintain and enhance their employability in a fast-changing world. It is also in the interest of employers to invest in and retain their people to maintain their competitiveness. This includes the need in the agricultural sector for new skills to be available to farmers, and also the skills that allow the employed to establish their own businesses.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • by April 2002, develop public libraries' technology in support of the National Grid for Learning and Community Grids for Learning;
  • during 2001/02, increase the proportions of people in companies who have relevant qualifications. New emphasis will be given to encouraging small companies, including tourism companies, to develop their workforces and managements and enabling them to compete successfully internationally. Sixty small companies (40 from TSN areas) will be targeted to undertake programmes to enhance qualifications and skills and 30 medium/large companies to initiate qualifications/skills improvement programmes related to high growth projects;
  • by March 2004, taking account of New TSN principles, provide an additional 12,000 business development training places for farmers;
  • encourage the development of a system of lecturer exchange between universities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland;
  • by November 2001, develop, in partnership with the Arts Council, tailored education and training programmes for individual artists to allow them to develop to the maximum their potential and offer support and expertise to the emerging creative industries; and
  • by April 2001, develop, in conjunction with the Arts Council, an action plan to encourage audience development and increase participation in the arts consistent with the enhancement of opportunities for lifelong learning.

4.5

We will assist and support the socially excluded to enable them to enter or return to the workforce

Reducing long-term unemployment is fundamental to tackling a whole range of social and economic problems facing our society - child poverty, community differentials, dependence on the state, alienation and crime among others. The Executive is committed to ensuring that programmes such as New Deal and Welfare Reform Programme give people the skills and incentives which they need to get jobs and escape the cycle of deprivation. In addition it is important that we equip people with those skills, including ICT skills, which are increasingly necessary in the labour market and enable older people to stay in employment if they so choose.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • by March 2002, pilot a new training programme for adults with basic literacy and numeracy problems;
  • create awareness of entrepreneurship that presents self employment and starting up in business as positive options; and
  • by April 2001, put in place facilities to exchange job vacancy information with the Republic of Ireland.

The departments with the main involvement are:

    Department of Education
    Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment
    Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment
    Department for Social Development
    Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
    Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
    Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety



Contents     Preface     Consultation
Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3     Chapter 4     Chapter 5     Chapter 6     Chapter 7
Annex A     Annex B     Annex C

 


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