Co Tyrone primary school merger between Moy Regional and St John's leads to integration row
A row has erupted over shared education after two primary schools were told by the Education Minister John O'Dowd there are no legal restrictions to their amalgamation.
Two Co Tyrone schools, Moy Regional – which is mainly Protestant – and Catholic primary school St John's are set to merge. But while they will be coming in through the same front door, the pupils – wearing different uniforms – will then split and head to their own separate wings.
The system has been criticised for being a watered down system of truly integrated education, where Catholic and Protestant children are educated together in a single school by the same teachers and wear one uniform. Both schools say sharing facilities will save money and save the smaller school, Moy, from closure.
The two schools already share some classes and activities but believe the move to build a single building would be beneficial. If adopted, pupils would come together in the canteen and for certain classes including gym, music and IT.
News of the proposed move last night led to a verbal online spat about the merits of shared versus integrated education on Twitter between Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew and political commentator Alex Kane.
Mr Kane said that shared education was a "cynical facade to keep children together yet apart" and compared it to the Executive. But Ms Gildernew defended the move and said: "No one's pretending this is 'integrated', but it is the solution that suits the community."
Ms Gildernew said that she backed integrated education, but she had many meetings with local parents and said they were happy with the decision.
"I support integrated education and will continue to work on behalf of those parents who choose that for their children."
Research carried out by the two schools suggested the move would save money.
Shared education programmes involved some 162 schools and almost 13,000 pupils throughout Northern Ireland last year. The Executive has made a commitment in its Programme for Government to substantially increase the number of schools sharing facilities by 2015. This differs from integrated schools, where all children are educated together in a single uniform, and do not split into classes according to religion.