Robinson eyes single schools system
A roadmap towards a single education system must be produced within four years, Peter Robinson has said.
If the Executive does not agree then educational foundations and other interested groups could push the reform forward, added the Democratic Unionist leader.
Catholic schools are keen to preserve their "ethos" and the head of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has defended the sector.
Mr Robinson said: "Given our divided history I believe that it is difficult to build a shared and united community while we continue to educate our young people separately. It's not that separate education facilities are inherently unequal in Northern Ireland, it is just that they do not assist in the creation of the shared community here that we need and wish to see. This goes to the heart of our vision for the future."
Last October he made a speech in which he suggested that the education system was a benign form of apartheid which was fundamentally damaging to society. Mr Robinson added that while he had no objection to church schools, he objected to the state funding them. But Martin McGuinness said Mr Robinson was making a mistake in taking on the churches.
Mr Robinson, during a visit to Down High School in Downpatrick on Thursday, said: "In the next four years I want to see a roadmap produced for a single education system. I don't know exactly what shape it will take but I want to see all those interested and involved in education sitting down together to explore how this can best be achieved, while respecting the position of all sectors.
"I would like to think we will be able to convince the Assembly and Executive to come on board as this phase of the journey begins, but if they do not there are foundations and other interested groups who will facilitate this process."
After the election he envisages a commission representing all interests established to map out a way forward.
"I hope that we will be able to agree terms of reference that will allow everyone to participate in a constructive and positive way and with no predetermined outcome," Mr Robinson added.
"It may well be that in the initial stage we merely encourage greater sharing between schools and sectors, but ultimately I would hope that this could evolve to a fully integrated single education system. But that will be a matter for the future."