Published Tuesday, 02 October 2012
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The Education and Skills Authority (ESA) is designed to replace the five Education and Library Boards and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools.
It was due to come into place two years ago, but a final agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin was not reached until this summer.
The first stage of the Education Bill was tabled at Stormont on Tuesday in a move described by Minister John O'Dowd as "a significant day in our journey to modernise the administration of education."
ESA is designed to streamline and modernise the education system in the region to ensure it meets the needs of young people, while also acting more efficiently than existing systems.
"Over the past 40 years, those working for the Education and Library Boards, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the Youth Council and the Staff Commission for the Education and Library Boards, whether as staff or board members, have shown great commitment to improving the educational experience of learners," said Minister O'Dowd.
"Their contribution cannot be overestimated.
"As we continue the drive to raise educational standards, ESA will be able to build on the work of these various bodies. It will do so in a way that will reduce unnecessary expenditure on bureaucracy; will help disseminate good practice in our schools; will facilitate the advancement of shared education; and will ultimately lead to improved educational outcomes for all children."
But with up to £20 million spent developing ESA, a lot is at stake if the system does not meet standards.
"The jury's still out," John Stevenson, former headmaster at Sullivan Upper, told UTV, who fears ESA will be too big to get the job done.
"Getting it through the Assembly is one challenge but making it work is, I suspect, an even bigger challenge.
"If every sector has a finger in the pie, if everybody has to be represented we will build a bureaucratic monster. EAS has to be an efficient modern organisation, it has to look at standards, and it has to focus on the key task.
"I think in the past in Northern Ireland we have been used to layers upon layers of bureaucracy and essentially inefficient systems costing lots of money," he explained
Tony Gallagher is a professor of education at Queen's University, Belfast. He said where money had been spent on inefficient systems in the past, it is time to look to the future.
"One would hope that ESA is able to operate in a more effective and efficient way than the various systems we've had," said Prof Gallagher.
"Education is hugely important. At a time like this, when the economy is in such problem, education is key to our future. The role of ESA should be to provide as much support and encouragement to schools as possible to ensure that every child gets the best quality education.
"That will be the test of it."