HC Deb 22 March 1993 vol 221 cc501-2W
Mr. Sykes

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the work of the Department of Education (Northern Ireland) since 1979.

Mr. Hanley

This has been a period of major progress in education. The Government's investment in the education service is at its highest-ever level with spending on education at 1–2 billion on 1992–93, an increase of 8.2 per cent. over final outturn for 1991–92 excluding the youth training programme. From 1979 to 1992 expenditure has increased by 31 per cent. in real terms and pupil-teacher ratios have improved from 19.1 to 18.3.

Educational standards have shown significant improvement: the proportion of school leavers with at least one A-level has increased from 21.1 per cent. in 1979–80 to 31.7 per cent. in 1990–91, while the proportion leaving with no GCSE/O-level passes has fallen from 27 per cent. to 13.0 per cent. over the same period. We are implementing a programme of education reform begun in 1989; this will further improve the quality of education, increase parental choice, and ensure that Northern Ireland continues to enjoy its deserved reputation for high educational standards.

Education reform legislation has encouraged the development of integrated schools, and introduced the themes of education for mutual understanding and cultural heritage to the curriculum. In addition, the cross-community contact scheme has facilitated projects, involving just over one third of schools and 300 youth clubs, in which young people from the two sides of the community learn to work together.

The number of students entering further education has increased by a third to just over 80,000. A major review of further education has recently been concluded. This will lead to a restructuring of provision to ensure that it fully meets the demands of the future.

Major structural changes have taken place in tertiary level education in Northern Ireland since 1979, including the merger of the Ulster polytechnic with the New University of Ulster to create the University of Ulster in 1984–85. Since the merger, the number of students attending the two Northern Ireland universities has increased by almost 40 per cent. in 1984–85 to 26,579 in 1991–92. Northern Ireland currently has the highest participation rate in higher education in the United Kingdom—30 per cent. in 1991–92 compared with 23 per cent. in Great Britain

There has been a significant increase in the number of arts events in Northern Ireland and in the numbers attending them. Facilities for the arts have also been greatly improved. These range from major refurbishments such as that of the grand opera house to the provision of local arts centres. The Ulster orchestra has become one of the most important regional orchestras in the United Kingdom and is now firmly established on the international scene, having toured in Europe, Korea and the United States.

Every district council area now has, or is in the process of building, a major indoor sports facility and all but one has its own indoor swimming pool. Leisure provision in Belfast has been particularly extensive and the level of indoor sports participation in the city is the highest in the United Kingdom.

A fundamental review of the way the education service is administered has just been introduced.

Dr. Wright

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many appointments to the public bodies listed in "Public Bodies" for his Department were made from names supplied by the Public Appointments Unit; and if he will list them.

Mr. Mates

[holding answer 19 March 1993]: None.