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Sinn Fein MLA's anger at claims our schools are 'segregated'

By Rebecca Black

A Sinn Fein MLA has launched a scathing attack on the head of an integrated education body, accusing her of using inflammatory language.

During a sitting of Stormont's education committee inquiry into shared and integrated education, Chris Hazzard lambasted Noreen Campbell, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) during her evidence.

Ms Campbell had referred to the current education system, where 92% of children are educated either in majority Catholic or majority Protestant settings, as segregated.

Mr Hazzard objected: "To focus on what segregated means, to me that's actively segregating, our system allows for parents to choose." He said that Ms Campbell was "wrong" to use the word segregated, adding: "I think segregated is a loaded term."

Ms Campbell agreed that segregated was "a loaded term", adding: "Interestingly we talk about segregated housing and it does not seem to have the same effect as when it is used about our education system," she told the committee.

"We need to talk about keeping children divided - 92% of children go to schools that are one side or the other."

Mr Hazzard went on to ask why there was no use of the Irish language nor pictures of Gaelic games in a NICIE brochure he had in his possession.

Ms Campbell clarified that the Irish language is taught at many integrated schools where resources allow, and that Gaelic games are played alongside soccer and other sports.

In the main body of her evidence to the committee, Ms Campbell repeated her call for a Patten-style review of education. She said both integrated schools and shared education were an approach to education, but pointed out for integrated schools sharing was "the daily norm".

She said £80m could be saved by cutting out the current religious duplication.

Ms Campbell conceded that a long-term view of NICIE was to disband it because if the system was changed it would no longer be needed.

She also called for changes to strategic planning on an area basis, for a "level playing field" for integrated schools, a uniform system of governance, a unified teacher training system, and for pre-schools only to be funded by the department if they are non-sectoral.

Stormont's education committee is holding an inquiry into shared and integrated education. The probe hit the headlines after the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools urged Minister John O'Dowd to ditch his statutory obligation to encourage integrated education, claiming it is not growing.

The integrated lobby hit back saying most of its schools were oversubscribed.

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