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

By Tina Merron

It is very disappointing that, 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.

Throughout the paper, the party makes repeated reference to parental choice and to what it says parents and communities want for their children.

Successive independent surveys (including the OFMDFM's own Good Relations Indicators research) have shown clearly that the majority of people would like to see integrated education as the main model for our education system.

Further, a majority of people see integrated education as a major contributor to a shared future.

Unfortunately, for many families who would opt for an integrated school, the choice is not available to them. If the DUP is committed, as it says, to "a school system which has the support of parents and the communities which it serves" then we need to see a diligent system of community audits which presents communities with genuine choice and which results in plans reflective of the public's wishes.

There are several contradictions in the DUP's position: the party wants to reduce duplication yet this policy seeks to increase the number of sectoral bodies.

This is increasing administrative duplication and at the same time strengthening the divided structure of our education system.

At a time of budget pressures, a maintenance backlog and thousands of empty desks, the document lacks a consistent vision of a new education system.

It does not explore a more economically-efficient design.

If we genuinely reduce or even eliminate duplication, we could devote resources to equipping an education system which effectively prepares young people for the "fast-moving, technologically-driven, global economy" the DUP describes.

In a report published in 2014, the business community in Northern Ireland sent a strong message to our politicians: that there is an urgent need to reform the education system, to move away from the current segregated structures and to focus resources on providing young people with the best facilities and best preparation for their future in the world of work.

  • Tina Merron is CEO of the Integrated Education Fund

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