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Fury as education blueprint ignores integrated schooling

By Anna Maguire

Government commitment to integrated education has been challenged after an official business plan failed to refer to the sector.

It is the second consecutive year that the Department of Education has omitted any reference to integrated education in its 2012-15 business plan, which is updated annually.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn (right) said it was astonishing that the department dedicated pages to projects promoting shared education and the Irish-medium sector, without mentioning integrated education.

The 37-page report focuses on shared education over three pages and references the Irish-medium sector. It lists targets to promote the debate on shared education, the development of 10 new shared education campuses, and a Programme for Government commitment for all pupils to participate in a shared education project by 2015.

Pupils of integrated schools – who hail from different religious, social and academic backgrounds – learn and socialise side by side all the time, instead of some of the time under the shared education model, it has been claimed.

The 'rush' towards sharing resources instead of all pupils' classroom time risks turning integrated education into a "Cinderella sector", Mr Lunn warned yesterday.

"It astonishes me that there is no mention in this plan of integrated education. I do not object to shared education, but it's being used as a means to turn integrated education into a cinderella sector," he said during a briefing to the Assembly's education committee.

"What sort of message are we sending out to the integrated education movement when the department's corporate plan does not mention it?"

Stormont departments are obliged to encourage integrated education under a pledge contained within the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Tina Merron from the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) said it was disappointing that integrated education had been sidelined in the department's plans again.

"It is a model which should surely be at the heart of the education system if the Executive is sincerely committed to a shared society," she said.

Only 7% of children attend integrated schools in Northern Ireland, with the vast majority educated in the State or Catholic sectors. In June, a LucidTalk poll revealed that more than half of those surveyed believed politicians should set a target date for the complete desegregation of the education system.

Department of Education deputy secretary John McGrath has insisted the integrated education sector, which has not been reviewed in years and lacks specific targets, is "confident and stable".

"Stable means it is not growing," Mr Lunn said.

"To encourage and facilitate integrated education, it should involve at least a mention of where the department would like to see the integrated sector going."

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