A Northern Ireland Local Government (NILGA) delegation has urged Education Minister Peter Weir to champion more effective work with local councils across Northern Ireland to deliver better outcomes for pupils and local communities.
The first meeting with the minister since the restoration of the Executive saw NILGA elected members and council officials expressing to Minister Weir the transformative effect that community planning – putting local people, evidence and places at the hub of decision making - can have, delivering better outcomes for everyone in society.
Community planning aims to improve the connection between all tiers of government and wider society to jointly deliver better public services – including education provision - for everyone. Community plans identify long term priorities for improving the social, economic and environmental well-being of local areas and the people who live there.
Councils are keen to improve the impact and input of education bodies including the overarching Education Authority in community planning structures and local investment priorities identified.
Cllr Frances Burton, NILGA President, said:
“We welcomed the opportunity to meet with Education Minister Peter Weir this afternoon. Education, like many of our key public services, is currently facing significant budgetary and capacity pressures. While local government does not have powers concerning the direct provision of education in Northern Ireland, unique community planning initiatives can help our local school premises and estates to be creatively used as assets for the whole community.
“NILGA seeks strong Education Authority partnership and participation across all community planning structures. Our school estate, in several areas, remain an untapped resource. Therefore, we urged the minister to consider how we can make best use of the public sector estate. Greater collaboration between schools, councils and community organisations can ensure some of our most valuable community buildings and facilities can be used by as wide a section of the population as possible, as is evident in some great local schemes both rural and urban.
“Local councils want to work as equal partners with bodies like the Education Authority and the Department of Education, using valuable local data and future planning models. We’ve already seen how partnership between the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and Mr Weir’s department on the use of single use plastic in schools has led to greater awareness among pupils of their impact on the environment. These are welcome initiatives and council elected representatives and officials want to be involved to ensure we address issues like litter in our local areas, the role of school pupils and personnel in tackling the climate crisis, greater community participation in schools and the great work of youth councils.”