Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Call for John O'Dowd to boost integrated sector is defeated

A call for the Education Minister to do more to promote the integrated sector has been defeated at Stormont.

A motion to press John O'Dowd to do more to encourage the sector fell when MLAs voted on an amendment in favour of parental choice and shared education.

The pro-integration motion, tabled by the Alliance Party's Trevor Lunn and Chris Lyttle, called for Mr O'Dowd "to make integration of controlled and maintained schools a specific objective of area planning".

But an amendment brought by education committee chairman, the DUP's Mervyn Storey, and three party colleagues, urged the minister to "guarantee parity of esteem for all sectors".

Strangford DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen said her party's amendment promoted "the development of a single shared education system based upon equality of treatment for all". The Alliance proposal comes on the back of the party's 'For Everyone' document which states its desire that all new-build schools should be integrated, except in exceptional cases.

The DUP and Sinn Fein are opposed to the idea, stating it eliminates parental choice. Most of the 94 MLAs who voted for Mr Storey's shared future motion were unionist, who carried it with a vote of 71 to 23. Most dissent emanated from the nationalist and Alliance parties, but the minister voted in favour of the DUP-backed motion. Mrs McIlveen said the reason the DUP could not support the motion as it stood was because it was "unworkable".

"The DUP is supportive of parental choice. What is fundamentally wrong with the motion is that it is a clumsy attempt to circumvent the principles of shared education in favour of one particular sector," she said.

Mr O'Dowd paid tribute to the "sterling work that a majority of integrated schools carry out". However, he stressed "we know through experience that imposing solutions on communities simply does not work".

He added: "Parents vote with their feet when making choices about their children's education."

Addressing the comments, Mr Lunn said: "Sharing education has its place; I do not discount it. Some of the area learning communities work very well."

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