SDLP man slams MP’s claim that Or­ange Or­der can help ed­u­ca­tion

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY LAU­REN HARTE

AN SDLP coun­cil­lor has branded re­marks by a Labour MP over the Or­ange Or­der’s role in North­ern Ire­land schools as “lu­di­crous and ig­no­rant”.

Cllr Brian Head­ing was re­act­ing to com­ments made by Stephen Hep­burn at an in­quiry into ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing ear­lier this week where three se­nior staff from the Ed­u­ca­tion Author­ity (EA) gave ev­i­dence.

Dur­ing the brief­ing to the North­ern Ire­land Af­fairs Com­mit­tee at West­min­ster on Wed­nes­day, Mr Hep­burn asked the EA what it was do­ing to en­gage the Or­ange Or­der in ed­u­ca­tion.

He said: “When I look at their marches you’ve got kids that size and you’ve got boys and girls in their teens.

“Surely if these Or­ange Or­ders can in­spire young peo­ple to dress up so smart and look so great and be so proud and ev­ery­thing, they can in­spire them to try a bit harder at school?”

EA chair­per­son Sharon O’Con­nor re­sponded by say­ing that the or­gan­i­sa­tion was ac­tively work­ing with “all man­ner of youth and com­mu­nity groups”.

Mr Hep­burn also asked whether “lo­cal he­roes” like golfer Rory McIl­roy could as­sist in en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to per­form well in school.

Re­spond­ing to Mr Hep­burn’s re­marks, Cllr Head­ing, a mem­ber of Belfast City Coun­cil, said: “Our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is in cri- Crit­i­cism: Brian Head­ing sis; con­tin­u­ous cuts to fund­ing is pil­ing pres­sure on schools like never be­fore. The sug­ges­tion by a Labour MP that the Or­ange Or­der could in some way re­verse this by en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to ‘try a bit harder in school’ is ap­palling.

“Mr Hep­burn clearly knows very lit­tle about our di­vided past here, if this is his an­swer to our prob­lem. When was the last time he vis­ited or was here on the Twelfth of July?”

Mr Head­ing added: “Like­wise, the un­prece­dented cri­sis schools are fac­ing here can­not be fixed with merely en­cour­ag­ing pupils to ‘try harder’. Schools, in or­der to give pupils the best start in life, must be funded ap­pro­pri­ately. The only way to en­sure we mit­i­gate the cri­sis our schools are fac­ing is through an Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter who is pre­pared to make de­ci­sions.”

The West­min­ster hear­ing was also told that schools in North­ern Ire­land look set to over­spend their bud­gets by about £33m in 2018/19 due to an on­go­ing fund­ing short­fall.

The MPs were in­formed that the spend­ing power of ed­u­ca­tion bud­gets has fallen by £233m since 2010/11.

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