Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Case for integration overwhelming

A future together: Playgrounds with pupils from all walks of life (top) is the goal of those in support of integrated education and (above) attendees at the breakfast

An integrated education system is essential to prepare students for the diversity of the workplace, to save on the cost of segregated education and to ensure the Northern Ireland economy can compete for both inward investment and export.

Those were findings of a breakfast held by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) in conjunction with the CBI and the Belfast Telegraph where business leaders agreed that the current system of segregated education is detrimental to the economy.

"Every member I speak to sees this as a fundamental building block of driving the economy in Northern Ireland," Ian Coulter, chairman of the CBI, said. "We, as the CBI, will do whatever we can to help achieve that."

Joanne Stuart, who runs IT firm Attrus and is a trustee of the IEF, said business has a strong interest in how young people are prepared for the world of work, not just from an academic perspective but in terms of readying the coming generation for the "socially diverse world awaiting them".

She said: "Integrated schools are creating the new normality, they reflect the diversity that is part of our everyday life as business people and provide the environment where difference is respected and issues can be dealt with in a trusted and safe environment."

Meanwhile, a 2010 Oxford Economics Report, Developing the case for Integrated Education, put the additional burden of segregated education in Northern Ireland at as much as £300m a year.

During the round-table discussion at the event, business leaders said this saving could be used to cover much of the cost of a cut in corporation tax here from 24% currently to 12.5%, the same rate as that in the Republic.

Others said the savings should be put back into the education system, although Northern Ireland already has the highest spend on education of all UK regions with 17.4% of our total budget assigned to the sector. Meanwhile, when it comes to the perception of Northern Ireland as an economy, a divided education system doesn't give potential inward investors or export partners a good impression.

"There's a slight veneer of cohesion but we need to concentrate on getting the education system right," Alan Campbell, managing director or Portview and one of the attendees at the breakfast, said.

"The education system is there to support the economic vision."

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