Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Northern Ireland politicians need lessons on integrated education

Less than one in five people believes the Assembly is meeting its obligation to encourage integrated education.

Just 18.1% of respondents in a Lucid Talk poll said 'yes' when asked the question: "Under the terms of the 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement Stormont is obliged to encourage integrated education. Do you think the Assembly fulfils this obligation?"

However, in some areas of Belfast – south east, south, south west and west – that drops to less than one in 10 agreeing that Stormont is supportive of integrated education.

The highest figure was 29.5% in Craigavon and surrounding districts, but that still amounts to less than one in three people endorsing our MLAs.

The poll indicates a high level of dissatisfaction with local politics and politicians, with many people feeling that our elected representatives are not representing their views.

The poll was conducted on behalf of the Integrated Education Fund (IEF).

Tina Merron, IEF chief executive, said: "The results of this poll is a damning indictment of the department's failure to fulfil its statutory obligation to facilitate and promote integrated education."

According to a University of Ulster report last week, our main political parties – with the exception of Alliance – have shied away from integrated education in favour of shared education.

Trevor Lunn, Alliance's education spokesman, said: "In 1998, the parties that signed the Good Friday Agreement promised the people of Northern Ireland initiatives to facilitate and encourage integrated education.

"I believe that the other political parties have failed to deliver this duty."

Other findings from the Northern Ireland-wide poll are:

• More than half of voters would be more likely to vote for a political party that supports integrated education;

• 71.2% of people did not know that any school in Northern Ireland can become integrated – despite 79% saying they would support a move to transform their school to integrated;

• 71.3% believe the Department of Education should publicise information better on the transformation process – how schools can become integrated;

• Cross-community school mergers are the most popular option for encouraging integration;

• Having more integrated schools is rated as more important in maintaining long-term peace in Northern Ireland than government policies and programmes for counter sectarianism, additional mixed housing and investment in economic growth.

When it comes to voting, 54.2% of people said they would be more likely to vote for a political party if it supported integrated education with similar figures for Protestant (63.4%) and Catholic (62.6%) voters.

There was also very little difference in the figures for the different socio-economic groups, ranging between 48.4% for ABs (professionals) and 56% for C2s (skilled manual workers).

And 18-24-year-olds, at 61.7%, were more likely to vote for a party that supports integrated education than any other age group.

Politicians were not the only ones who came in for criticism, with many parents pointing the finger at the Department of Education when it comes to integrated education.

Speaking previously on the future of integrated education, Education Minister John O'Dowd said: "I support parental choice in the type of education they wish for their children.

"Integrated education is one option amongst several and where demand is established my department will continue to support the provision of integrated schools."

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