Cleric suggests jointly-run schools
Schools run jointly by the Protestant and Catholic churches could help to build a shared future in Northern Ireland, a senior cleric said.
They already share classes and other resources but the proposal would see institutions run with an overarching Christian ethos but separate teaching for Catholic sacraments and other doctrinal differences, the Rev Ian Ellis said.
The Church of Ireland minister is secretary of the Transferor Representatives' Council which helps oversee Protestant education, and said jointly managing schools was an option.
"It is a thought that has worked elsewhere. It is an idea that is worth considering," he said.
He added that too many rural schools were being closed and their pupils bussed to towns when amalgamating Protestant and Catholic centres could preserve local education.
"Would it be worth thinking of a creative solution and preserving a school in the local community jointly managed by the Protestant and Catholic churches? What we were hoping to see was that we can preserve a Christian faith ethos within a jointly managed school.
"What we would have to try and establish is a solidly Christian ethos promoting Christian values but there would be streams where Catholic children receive preparation for the sacraments and non-Catholics receive an education in keeping with the core syllabus they have reached in other policies and we pose the question could it be a potential solution for the future?"
A study for the Integrated Education Fund found strong backing for integrated education in supporting a shared future. Currently Catholic and Protestant schools collaborate in delivering some classes, like ICT, but the management structures remain separate.
Last year Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson sparked a confrontation with the Catholic Church when he described the current education system in Northern Ireland as "a benign form of apartheid". He objected to the state funding church schools.
The Catholic church has defended religious ethos as adding value to teaching. Catholic Cardinal Sean Brady has described the comments as a stark warning to all those who respect diversity and the rights of parents. "It seems strange that people in Northern Ireland are being told that they should accept a lower standard of rights and freedoms than they would have if they lived in Britain, Scotland or the south of Ireland," he said.