Calvert and Moutray made inaccurate claims - O’Dowd

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FROM John O’Dowd. Education Minister

I am writing in response to recent comments in the Lurgan Mail from both David Calvert of the TUV and DUP representative Stephen Moutray in relation to my announcement about new school building projects.

Mr Calvert states that I have “displayed obvious bias” and “ignored one section of the community in allocating funding to three Catholic schools and one integrated school” while Mr Moutray says I have “continued to display bias against the controlled sector in general”. I strongly refute these unfounded and scurrilous accusations on the discharge of my duty as Minister for Education. If they would care to look at the facts rather than engaging in political point scoring they would see that their accusations do not bear up to any level of scrutiny.

My capital announcement last month encompassed some 22 projects across the north with an estimated value of over £220 million. Over half of the anticipated investment at £119 million will be for eight projects in the controlled sector. All the projects are sound investments in the education estate and were confirmed as forming part of the area solution by the relevant managing authorities. The process for selection is open and transparent and available for anyone to examine on my Department’s website and the criteria adopted to assess each project was applied consistently and equitably.

In relation to the allegation that I have unfairly discriminated against the controlled schools in Portadown and Lurgan I would point out that none of the four controlled schools referred to were included on the Southern Education and Library Board’s prioritised list for consideration as part of this particular investment.

Mr Calvert claims that I have stated funding will not be provided to grammar schools. This is completely inaccurate. My previous capital announcement in June 2012 of 18 major projects totalling £173million consisted of schools across all sectors, including controlled, maintained, grammar, Irish-medium, integrated and special schools. Indeed the single largest investment of £19.6 million was for a voluntary grammar school with a further £25.9 million investment in the maintained sector and £29 million in the controlled sector.

Finally, historically over the last 15 years, investment across the estate has been well balanced between the Catholic maintained and controlled sectors at around £600million on each. I resent the fact that I have to resort to highlighting the specific amounts of investment in the different sectors as I believe the priority should be meeting the educational needs of all our children regardless of their religious background. However, since these inaccurate claims were made I felt it was important for your readers to know the facts.

In future I would encourage Mr Calvert and Mr Moutray to play a more constructive role in shaping the future of education in the Upper Bann area rather than spending their time making inaccurate and unsubstantiated remarks.