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DUP leader Peter Robinson turns his back on the policy to create more integrated schools

Party is under fire for going cold on mixed education

By Rebecca Black

The DUP has gone on the attack after calling for legislation that promotes integrated education to be scrapped.

It comes just four years after DUP leader Peter Robinson blasted our segregated education system as " Separate schools 'benign apartheid'."

Yesterday at the launch of its new Education for All policy, the party described the integrated se ctor's statutory advantage as "an impediment" to a single education sector.

A spokesman said: "It comes back to our overarching policy of wanting to see a single education sector.

"Integrated schools are part of a sector in their own right but we want to see all five education sectors brought into common ownership and management type."

However, the DUP does not envisage that single education system as a network of grant-maintained integrated schools - but controlled and voluntary run schools, according to sources.

The shift from integrated to shared has been backed by First Minister Peter Robinson.

Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Robinson said: "Shared education is a pathway that ultimately and logically leads towards integrated education so we would support both.

"We have to live in the world that we exist in, and you cannot have a revolution in education that would not be deeply difficult and divisive by just imposing integrated education overall."

Mr Robinson was speaking following the policy launch at Brownlow House in Lurgan.

The document states that "no school sector or ethos should be afforded extra statutory protection within the law" and makes no mention of integrated education in its 13 pages.

Both integrated and Irish medium education have protection in legislation under the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement places a statutory duty on the Department of Education to "encourage and facilitate" Irish medium and integrated education, which was endorsed by 71% of the public in a referendum.

Tina Merron, head of the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), described the DUP policy on education as "very disappointing".

She said: "In a major policy document the DUP has made no positive reference to integrated education and its role in a future education system for Northern Ireland." Mr Robinson's comments are a far cry from his renowned Castlereagh speech in October 2010 when he stated: "Who among us would think it acceptable that a state or nation would educate its young people by the criteria of race with white schools or black schools? Yet we are prepared to operate a system which separates our children almost entirely on the basis of their religion."

He also said: "Consideration should be given to tasking a body or commission to bring forward recommendations for a staged process of integration and produce proposals to deal with some of the knotty issues such as religious education, school assembly devotions and the curriculum. Future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue."

The DUP rollback comes just three months after similar calls by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) provoked outrage.

CCMS wants the department to "dispense with its statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education" and "evaluate the public appetite for integrated education as a sectoral entity, reconsider the statutory duty and look to the promotion of other initiatives". Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn has described CCMS and the DUP as "strange bedfellows".

"It is hard to escape the impression that Peter Robinson's party is not committed to the value and principles of educating our children together in an integrated setting," he said.

"My impression is that the other parties are prepared to support the growth of the integrated sector, but DUP and CCMS - strange bedfellows indeed - are not and the DUP in particular will run with sharing as a means of demonstrating a commitment which really does not exist, hence no mention in their document."

The new DUP policy document is a forerunner to a weightier manifesto on education which it intends to publish next year ahead of the Assembly elections.

From the archives

Robinson outlines 'future' of education in Northern Ireland

Peter Robinson: I won’t be cowed by Catholic Church

Ending policy of schools segregation could save us up to £300m a year

Separate schools 'benign apartheid' 

Factfile

The DUP's new policy document Education for All:

  • Calls for removal of legislative protection for Irish medium and integrated schools.
  • Supports the establishment of a sectoral support body for voluntary grammars
  • Encourages greater sharing across education sectors
  • Supports parental choice
  • Calls for greater autonomy to be given to schools

What is...?

Integrated education is when Catholic and Protestant pupils are educated side-by-side in the classroom on a daily basis. An integrated school must have at least 30% of pupils from the minority tradition in the area.

Shared education encourages schools of all types, including integrated, to provide opportunities for the education together of pupils. As well as bringing together pupils of different faiths, it aims to promote grammar and non-grammar schools sharing resources.

What does it say in...?

Article 64 of the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989: "It shall be the duty of the Department to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education."

Article 89 of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998: "It shall be the duty of the Department to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish-medium education."

The Good Friday Agreement A clause in the section entitled 'Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity: Economic, Social and Cultural Issues' places a statutory duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate Irish medium education in line with current provision for integrated education.

DUP insists it wants to offer choice, but the option of integration is not available to many

Kicked by all sides ... it must be doing something right  

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