Close to £500m is to be spent transforming how schools work in Northern Ireland.
The Education Authority (EA), which manages a wide range of services for primary and secondary schools in the province, has issued a tender seeking to appoint a partner organisation to oversee a huge growth in the use of technology in the delivery of education and learning over the next 10 years.
The contract, one of the largest ever issued by EA, is worth an estimated £485m.
The contract period will run from April 2024 to March 2034.
An EA spokesperson told the Sunday Independent the organisation appointed will be required to “deploy, support and manage a modern architecture, technical infrastructure and secure services for schools”.
“These services will improve the learning experience of our young people, supporting teaching through technology, develop skills for the future and support the EA and its educational stakeholders to improve educational outcomes,” the spokesperson added.
Meanwhile, two contracts to operate the school transport system in Northern Ireland over the next 10 years are each worth £300m.
One of the contracts is for the operation of school bus services, while the other covers the provision of taxis for children who meet the EA criteria for such services.
Each contract will also run for 10 years and is broken down into separate lots for the 11 council areas in Northern Ireland.
Bus and taxi companies will be able to apply for the lots dependent on where they are based.
The EA spokesperson said that in 2019, they had introduced a new online purchasing system for the procurement of private bus and taxi operators.
“Contracts for home-to-school transport private bus and taxi operators are worth an estimated £300m over 10 years, approximately £30m per year.
"These are some of the largest set of contracts managed by EA.
“Private operators successfully appointed to the online system can tender for runs in their appointed lot areas and new private operators are also able to join the system at any point.”
EA is also looking to appoint contractors to start work on building improvements to 14 secondary schools across Northern Ireland.
Contracts for the work, which will involve some schools getting new buildings while others will have current buildings modernised, range in value from £2.1m to £4.7m.
Among the schools to benefit from the new investment are St Joseph’s College in Belfast, Ballyclare High School in Co Antrim, St Brigid’s College in Derry and Dromore High School in Co Tyrone.
The improvement works for the schools were announced earlier this year by Education Minister Michelle McIlveen under the Major Capital Works Programme.