The Executive should set up schools jointly managed by the Catholic and Protestant churches according to a new survey, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.
The Education Minister today faced fresh calls to establish joint faith schools after a survey showed that over two thirds (67%) of parents and grandparents of children of school age or yet to start school would support this move.
Last year, the Belfast Telegraph reported that representatives from the Catholic and Protestant churches and school principals had travelled together to visit inter-church schools in Liverpool.
Schools jointly managed by the main churches would be a radical move in Northern Ireland if given the go-ahead by church leaders and Government.
Currently, maintained schools are owned and managed by the Catholic Church, while controlled schools are owned by the education boards with the three main Protestant churches key stakeholders in their management.
The Telegraph can reveal that the survey, which was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) and carried out by Millard Brown, also found that
43% of the respondents would prefer their children or grandchildren to attend an integrated school.
Of those whose children or grandchildren had never attended an integrated school, 38% said this was because there were no places available in their local integrated school or no integrated schools in their area.
A massive 79% of the respondents also supported schools sharing facilities with nearby schools, even if they were in a different school sector, and 84% of those questioned believe that integrated education is important for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Over 1,000 people were approached for the survey with most of the questions addressed to a representative sample of those with children or grandchildren aged under 19 still at school or college or not yet started, of which there were 478.
Representatives from the Catholic and Protestant Churches said they support a closer relationship between their sectors and called for research to be carried out into the prospect of joint faith-based schools being developed here.
Rev Ian Ellis, secretary to the Church of Ireland Board of Education NI and secretary to the Transferor Representatives’ Council (a council with a membership from the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist churches), said the council supported all possibilities for sharing in education — including arrangements between schools, shared staff, shared facilities and the possible creation of some joint faith-based schools.
“The Millward Brown survey indicates that 67% of the sample of parent and grandparents support the establishment of jointly managed schools. This is a very encouraging response,” he continued.
“However, it is not possible to transplant the idea and approach of joint management without careful adaptation to the context of the Northern Ireland system of education.”
Bishop Donal McKeown, chair of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education, said: “Obviously any proposals for new forms of joint church engagement would have to come from the churches themselves. However, we are very keen to find creative and home-grown solutions.”
Michael Wardlow, NICIE chief executive officer, said: “The strong support for new initiatives, such as shared management schools by the Catholic and Protestant churches, sends an encouraging message to our church leaders.”
In response, Caitriona Ruane said: “As Education Minister I have a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the integrated sector. I recognise and value the important role integrated education has in bringing children from different communities together and will study the findings of this new survey.”