Speaking after the meeting, Alliance Education spokesperson Connie Egan MLA said: “A good education is a fundamental right for all children, therefore it is essential that adequate levels of funding are provided. There are many pressures right across the education landscape and we highlighted to the Permanent Secretary the importance of education in giving our children and young people the best possible start in life. I am particularly concerned that adequate provision is ensured for children with special educational needs despite budget constraints.
“I recently spoke about the alarming budgetary position of the Education Authority, which is facing a deficit of upwards of half a billion pounds in the next financial year. A teachers’ strike is planned for 21 February, followed by a period of action short of strike, reflecting the low morale among our teachers. Pressure on teachers has been growing yet their pay has fallen in real terms over recent years, so it is essential a fair pay deal is agreed which reflects the vital role teachers play.
“In addition to funding, there are a number of policy areas that should not be allowed to stall in the absence of a functioning Executive and Education Minister. While we appreciate there are limitations on what the Permanent Secretary can approve, a key area of importance is when parents vote in favour of transformation to integrated status.
“During the last mandate Alliance successfully passed the Integrated Education Bill, because we believe our young people should be educated together to help move Northern Ireland forward. There are currently 12 outstanding Development Proposals for integrated schools, and we would urge the Permanent Secretary to progress these to respect parental choice.
“It is clear the education sector is in crisis, so it is therefore unforgivable that we do not have an Education Minister in place to take control and put the interests of children first.”
Accompanying Ms Egan were Alliance MLAs Kate Nicholl, Nick Mathison, Andrew Muir, Eóin Tennyson and Kellie Armstrong.