UUP backing a single education system as 'a virtual inoculation jab' against sectarianism
Northern Ireland should have a single education system, the Ulster Unionist Party has said.
In a new policy document the party said the current model of education in the province was unsustainable and bred sectarianism.
In a shift from its backing of parental choice, the UUP said it had "committed" to a single education system, but admitted it will take time to achieve.
The paper, published ahead of the party's manifesto launch later this week, also stressed "we must ensure that any change enjoys public confidence and parental support".
It added: "We see no reason this cannot be done without prejudice to any of the current sectors or their educational ethos.
"Segregation is a breeding ground for sectarianism and in mixing children together from (the age of four) you give them a virtual inoculation jab against sectarianism."
Leader Mike Nesbitt also argued a single system made sense financially.
"There is no sensible argument for funding and administering State controlled, Catholic maintained, integrated and Irish-medium schools where the demand and the pupil numbers do not add up," he said.
On the concept of shared education, the paper said the UUP was supportive "only on the basis that it is part of a road map to a more unified, less religiously segregated school system in Northern Ireland. It must be a process, not an end in itself". The party is also calling for an "army" of volunteers to promote and run a 'book buddy' scheme to improve literacy levels in schools.
Mr Nesbitt added: "Book buddies is an internationally tested and proven way to help teachers tackle an issue that lowers a child's life prospects. I am calling for an army of volunteer book buddies to help eradicate poor literacy among our schoolchildren.
"I acknowledge there are those who have been engaged in this type of volunteering in Northern Ireland, not least the organisation, Business in the Community. My call is to make it a formal strategy by the Department of Education."
He argued the costs were minimal but volunteers would need an Enhanced Access NI police check, currently costing £33.