Roy Beggs, East Antrim Ulster Unionist Party MLA has welcomed an announcement from the Education Minister that an expert panel has been formed to make recommendations and to development an action plan to tackle educational underachievement and he recently reminded the minister that parts of Larne had the highest proportion of less than 85% attendance at school of any ward in NI.
Roy Beggs MLA said “I have been raising the very real issue of educational underachievement within some disadvantaged communities and the unacceptable high levels of absenteeism for several years. I welcome the appointment of the expert panel and would urge the schools, parents and the local community to work together to improve the life-time opportunities of young people from Larne that can come from all recognising the value of education.
Some of the statistics given to me in a recent Assembly answer on absenteeism in parts of Larne are quite stark and showed that the Ballyloran ward had NI’s highest proportion of post primary school pupils with less than 85% attendance at school. (Ballyloran ward 43%; Antiville 27%; and, in Craigy Hill 27%; Blackcave ward 25%).
In his question in the Assembly Roy Beggs said, ” I, too, welcome the Minister’s statement and the appointment of the expert panel, because the importance of education in creating opportunities has to be recognised. Minister, in answer to a question that I asked in February, you highlighted absenteeism as a major contributory factor to education issues, in particular, in. Can you assure me that the panel will have full access to all your departmental officials and the support and cooperation of other relevant Departments so that we can get to the bottom of the wide range of issues that contribute to educational under attainment – weak community infrastructure and the need for long-term community support; limited numbers of educational welfare officers and their limited powers; and limited early years provision – and thereby address educational underachievement in communities?
Mr Weir, the Minister of Education said: I thank the Member for his question. The Member raises a very useful wider point, which is one of the reasons why, for balance, those from a community background are included. It is not simply about what happens in the classroom and at home. It is about creating a wider culture of a desire for education and support for education. That is critical. The panel will have complete access to anything within Education. Within my remit, there will be no closed doors, and, indeed, there will be support from the secretariat side, which will not require a large amount of people. I think that three members of departmental staff will be working directly on it to provide any administrative backup. If there are any questions that they want to ask, they will be free to look in any door in the Department. I cannot give the assurance for any government agencies beyond the Department of Education, but I cannot see any reason why there would be any obfuscation or blocking from any other government body or Department.
In conclusion Roy Beggs who is committee member of Horizon Surestart which provides early years support and assistance to parents said, “Parents, schools and the local community all play a vital role in helping our young people reach their full potential. I am pleased that the Minister of Education has acknowledge this and I look forward to engaging with the panel as they develop proposals to address under attainment.”