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In a statement to the Assembly, the Minister confirmed that the Education and Library Boards are to publish their post-primary plans today and that a steering group is being set up to move the plans forward.

Speaking about this announcement the Minister said: “I am happy to report that progress has been made on the area planning for post-primary schools in the north. As we move forward towards the establishment of ESA, it is important that we maintain momentum and build on this work to date. To this end I am establishing an area planning steering group.

“This group, under the chairmanship of my Department, will co-ordinate and oversee the continuing development of the area plans. Membership will include the controlled, maintained, integrated and Irish-medium sectors.”

In his statement to the Assembly the Minister outlined examples of where progress had been made and recognised that there were areas where he required further work.

Mr O’Dowd said: “Plans for some areas are well developed and can, I hope, be progressed in their current form. In Lurgan, for example, there are firm proposals for amalgamations in the Catholic maintained sector. In the Western Education and Library Board area, I am confirming the Lisanelly Shared Education Campus as the core area planning solution for Omagh. To this end, I can confirm that future investment in the Omagh area will be prioritised towards schools being built on the Lisanelly site.

“Other areas require further work before we can proceed towards a clear goal. In West Belfast, for instance, an agreed approach remains elusive. Those involved need to bring forward definitive plans without further delay.”

Furthermore, Minister confirmed that primary area plans are to be published on 19 March with an extended consultation period to the end of June.

The Minister continued: “For the primary sector, my intention is that dialogue at local level, taking onboard the lessons learned in the post-primary process, will result in more practical and sustainable solutions, including the potential, where appropriate, for increased sharing of accommodation and resources.”

The Minister also confirmed that further work will be done to develop a regional plan for dedicated special school provision.

Mr O’Dowd also stated that annual statistical information relating to sustainability will be published for every school. The Minister said: “Additionally, I want parents and stakeholders to be able to see up-to-date information on any school’s future sustainability. I have therefore also asked the Boards to publish data on schools’ sustainability, including, among other things, pupil numbers, educational attainment and budgets, annually.”

In conclusion, Mr O’Dowd said: “I believe there is a growing realisation among everyone with an interest or involvement in education that change is needed and that it is happening. Today I have set out how we will build on the work done to date to improve our education estate and I hope that, with the necessary leadership and belief in a future vision, we can make the necessary improvements for the benefit of all children.”