Education body split on appointing Pengelly as chief

2 weeks ago 25

Richard PengellyImage source, Pacemaker

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Mr Pengelly will be seconded from his post as Permanent Secretary at the Department of Justice

By Robbie Meredith

BBC News NI education correspondent

Six Education Authority (EA) board members opposed Paul Givan's proposal to appoint an interim chief executive.

The education minister later proposed Richard Pengelly be appointed to the post from 15 April.

Mr Pengelly will be seconded from his post as Permanent Secretary at the Department of Justice.

The Department of Education said he had "a proven track record of working with public sector boards and senior leaders to deliver front-line services".

The department also said the EA Board had agreed to the Education Minister's proposal at a meeting on 21 March.

But EA minutes of a special board meeting held two weeks earlier state a number of board members voted against the proposal after "significant and intense discussion".

Four EA board members also additionally "requested that their names be recorded in the minutes as not agreeing to the proposal".

A special meeting of the EA board took place on 7 March, two weeks before Mr Pengelly's appointment was publicly announced.

Image caption,

Mr Pengelly is to replace Sara Long, who was chief executive of the EA for five years

Mr Pengelly is to replace Sara Long, who was chief executive of the EA for five years.

The EA spends the bulk of Northern Ireland's £2.5bn education budget and is responsible for funding schools, staff, transport, meals, maintenance and support for children with special educational needs (SEN).

But the body has found itself in the headlines a number of times over cuts to its budget and delays in providing support for children with SEN.

Announcing his decision to appoint Mr Pengelly to head the EA, Mr Givan said he was "an experienced senior leader," who had "the experience and skill, working with the EA board, to deliver real change".

In a subsequent statement, the Justice Minister Naomi Long also praised Mr Pengelly, and said he had "a long and esteemed civil service career".

Image source, Liam McBurney/PA Media

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Justice Minister Naomi Long praised Mr Pengelly in a statement saying he had "a long and esteemed civil service career"

Prior to his role at the Department of Justice, Mr Pengelly had been Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health.

But the minutes of the special EA board meeting held on 7 March show that members held a discussion about Mr Givan's proposal for the recruitment of a chief executive.

According to the minutes, that followed an earlier meeting between the chair of the EA Barry Mulholland with Mr Givan on 5 March to discuss the recruitment.

The EA board agreed to the minister's proposal, "on the basis of a vote after significant and intense discussion."

Nine members voted in favour, while six voted against with the chair not voting.

"The following members requested that their names be recorded in the minutes as not agreeing to the proposal, these were Mrs P Carville, Mr P Kavanagh, Mr F Maskey and Ms A Mervyn," the board minutes said.

'Comprehensive and thorough discussion'

In a statement to BBC News NI, the EA said board members agreed in principle by a majority vote to the proposal after "comprehensive and thorough discussion".

"This was on the basis that the individual identified to undertake the role of the EA Chief Executive would be assessed by way of an approved Northern Ireland Civil Service process as being capable of undertaking effectively this significant and challenging role, and subject to EA and the Department of Education reaching agreement on the terms of a secondment."

The statement continued that, "having received the necessary assurances, including sign off by the head of the Civil Service, and agreement having been reached on the terms of the secondment, the board on 21 March agreed by a majority to appoint Mr Pengelly to the post of interim EA chief executive for a period of up to three years with effect from 15 April 2024".

'Unprecedented challenges'

A spokesperson for Department of Education (DE) told BBC News NI that the EA board and the minister "agree that the education system is facing a period of unprecedented challenges".

They also said that it "requires a senior leader with the necessary skills and experience to build on progress to date and take forward transformation of the organisation".

"Following careful consideration, the board and the minister agreed that the new chief executive should be an established and experienced senior leader with credibility in delivering transformational change in complex and multi-disciplinary organisations," they continued.

"An individual with the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges currently faced by the EA, and a proven track record of working with public sector boards and senior leaders to deliver front-line services."

Image source, PA Media

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The department says Mr Givan viewed Mr Pengelly as "a suitable and appropriate appointment"

The department said Mr Givan concluded that someone with the experience of a Northern Ireland Civil Service Permanent Secretary would be "a suitable and appropriate appointment".

"Following consultation with the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the minister proposed Mr Richard Pengelly for secondment to the role," it added.

"The Board accepted the minister's proposal at a meeting on 21 March and agreed to the secondment of Mr Pengelly as Chief Executive Officer for a period of three years commencing on 15 April 2024."

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