More than two-thirds of people believe Northern Ireland’s politicians must prioritise sorting out our divided education system, a major poll reveals today.
As the Assembly prepares to close down for the summer break, MLAs have been sent a clear message that more effort is needed on addressing segregation in the classroom.
Only 7% of children attend integrated schools in Northern Ireland, with the vast majority educated in the State or Catholic schools sectors.
But today’s exclusive LucidTalk poll underlines the increasing pressure on the Assembly to make progress on integrated education here.
It comes 10 days after US President Barack Obama endorsed integrated education during a keynote speech in Belfast.
And it reflects the findings of previous polls which have shown increasing support for a single education system.
However, the results have been dismissed by the head of the Commission on Catholic Education, Bishop Donal McKeown, who suggested the polls questions were “loaded”.
The key findings include:
- 68% believe the issue of segregated education should be a priority for the Executive, with 57% saying politicians should set a target date for its complete desegregation.
- 63% say that our education system perpetuates division in society.
- 77% think Northern Ireland’s international image would be improved by having a single education system.
- 82% of those expressing an opinion thought the international community should encourage our politicians to desegregate the education system.
The LucidTalk poll was conducted on behalf of the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), and sampled the views of more than 1,200 people across Northern Ireland.
One of the key findings focuses on the demand for integrated education to be moved up the political agenda at the Assembly.
The poll found 29% strongly agreed that addressing segregated education should be a priority, with a further 39% agreeing.
There was strong support from younger people, with a higher proportion of those aged under 45 in agreement compared to other age groups.
Just 14% disagreed, with the other 18% expressing no opinion.
Tina Merron, chief executive of the IEF, said the findings sent a clear message to the Assembly.
“Politicians would no doubt say they are addressing issues of segregation, but this survey shows the public obviously does not see enough urgency from Stormont,” she said.
“The messages from the ministerial advisory group on sharing in education and the ‘together building a united community’ policy clearly do not go far enough in tackling segregation in education.
“Politicians should be alert to the disconnect between them and ordinary citizens who want to reach out across traditional barriers and bring their children to learn, play and grow together from an early age.”
There has been high-profile backing for integrated education over the last 10 days.
Just hours after his speech in Belfast, Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron made a symbolic visit to Enniskillen Integrated Primary School.
And it was endorsed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in a visit to a Londonderry integrated school last Friday.
According to today’s poll, most people believe more international pressure should be put on politicians to desegregate the education system.
Marie Cowan, who chairs the IEF, said it was an opportunity to show the world a more positive image.
“As we approach the summer we are all too aware that images of discord and destruction can be
beamed across the world from Northern Ireland — as pictures of the flag protests made the international news,” she said.
“This poll demonstrates that people are very keen to see a positive message go out from Northern Ireland and the recent visits to integrated schools by Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nick Clegg showed people on the ground working together to forge a united community.”
However, Bishop McKeown, who chairs the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education, questioned the results.
“[The poll] used the loaded ‘segregated’ language that President Obama used last week.
“So, of course, you’ll get the answers that were built into the questions,” he said.
“And if you use the fuzzy term ‘integrated education’, most people — including those with a passion for Catholic education — will agree that they want to ‘integrate education’.
“But it is culpably dishonest to identify the widespread support for the global process of ‘integrating education’ with the comparatively small ‘integrated education’ movement.”
Referring to Mr Obama’s remarks on segregation, Bishop McKeown said: “As for the Obama speech — and the language implied by the poll — it is very passé to work on the basis of the hackneyed ‘Protestant v Catholic’ caricature.
“Some 15 years ago, the Good Friday Agreement showed that the core problem in Northern |Ireland was a political one, not religious one,” he said.
International pressure could make the world of difference, say 54%
BY ADRIAN RUTHERFORD
The Stormont Executive should face international pressure to come up with a way forward on integrated education, today’s poll reveals.
Over half of respondents agreed that greater encouragement was needed.
Although the poll was measured before US President Barack Obama’s visit to Northern Ireland, it underlines the significance of his address at the Waterfront Hall endorsing integrated education.
Asked if the international community should encourage politicians to desegregate our education system, 54% were in favour, with 12% disagreeing.
The other 34% did not express an opinion.
Analysis of the results shows support was strongest in Belfast and the east of Northern Ireland, and among higher socio-economic groups.
A higher proportion of younger age groups (18-24 and 25-44) agreed. A proportionately higher percentage of females also supported the concept of greater international pressure.
One respondent said: “Business leaders from outside should state that it should be a priority for their investment for us to desegregate our education system.”
Another key area of the poll focused on whether integrated education should be pushed further up the political agenda at Stormont.
Just 14% disagreed, with 39% agreeing and another 29% saying they strongly agreed.
A proportionately higher number of females either agreed or strongly agreed, the poll found.
In terms of religious background, 68% of Protestants either agreed or strongly agreed, with 13% disagreeing. Meanwhile 64% of Catholics agreed or strongly agreed, with 14% against.
A third question examined if Northern Ireland’s divided education system adds to division in our society, with 42% agreeing and another 21% saying they strongly agreed.
The ‘agree’ answers were again heavily biased towards the Belfast area and the higher socio-economic groups.
There was a similar pattern when people were asked if the Executive should set a target date for ending division in our education system, with support concentrated in the Belfast area and among the middle class.
In terms of the results, 26% strongly agreed, 31% agreed, 16% disagreed while 9% said they strongly disagreed. The other 18% did not express an opinion.
The respondents were also asked if every new school should be an integrated school. Almost a quarter (24%) strongly agreed, with 32% saying they agreed. Some 22% disagreed, with 22% not expressing an opinion.
Asked if they believed our international image would benefit by a single education system, over three-quarters (77%) responded yes. Just 6% said no, with the remaining 17% not expressing a view either way.
The poll was carried out by LucidTalk, which interviewed a random sample of 1,214 people across Northern Ireland, aged 18 and over, between May 6 and May 29.
Giving a clear picture of what those surveyed want
LucidTalk carried out a representative Northern Ireland-wide poll, on behalf of the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), to ascertain opinion and current views on integrated education in Northern Ireland.
The poll project covered 10 agreed polling questions, and sub-questions, sponsored by the IEF.
The questions were agreed with the project partners with the aim of determining an accurate representation of opinion in Northern Ireland.
Field work took place between May 6 and May 29.
Over 3,000 people were contacted as part of the project — approximately 90% via telephone and 10% directly door-to-door — and 1,214 full opinions were recorded.
Analysis has been carried out on this data, including full demographic analysis by area of residence (22 Northern Ireland postcode areas), gender, income group, socio-economic group, age-group, and community group. This will assist in subsequent ‘weighting’ analysis of the data results.
The 22 area targeted polling groups were selected by the collation of a random computer generated telephone list, based on the social and demographic factors listed above.
These target areas were selected according to specific detailed criteria, such as urban or rural, and also to accurately represent the structure and demographics of all of Northern Ireland, in terms of both social and economic structure.
The polling took place across a balanced range of demographic groups, for example religious or socio-economic, and targeted 22 pre-determined Northern Ireland postcode areas as detailed above.
The project produced results that reflected opinion for at least 90% of the population of Ni, and all data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-3.6% at 95% confidence. LucidTalk is a member of all applicable professional polling/market research industry organisations including the British Polling Council (BPC).
The BPC is the primary UK professional body ensuring professional polling standards.
All LucidTalk polling and market research projects, research, sampling, methodologies used, and results/reports production, are carried out to full BPC professional standards.
Bill White is MD of LucidTalk
The poll was carried out by Lucid Talk on behalf of the Integrated Education Fund, and involved a random sample of 1,214 residents in Northern Ireland. Polling was carried out between May 6 and May 29, with 90% contacted by telephone and 10% by direct interview.
Lucid Talk is a member of the British Polling Council (BPC) and all polling, research, sampling, methodologies used, and results and reports production have been carried out to the professional standards required by the BPC.
The British Polling Council is the primary UK professional body ensuring and monitoring professional polling standards.