The majority of people in Northern Ireland want state and Catholic schools to share facilities in response to our falling pupil numbers.
The latest findings of The Belfast Telegraph’s exclusive poll also shows that there is widespread support for outside bodies to be brought in to run public services, for failing service providers to be replaced and for more investment in information technology training.
Those surveyed were asked: “Should the Education Minister encourage state and Catholic schools to share facilities and/or teachers in view of falling pupil numbers and cuts in funding?”
Three out of four of those who expressed an opinion supported the idea.
In overall numbers the majority in favour was lower at 54%, with 19% opposed and 27% expressing no opinion. Only amongst 18-24-year-olds, the youngest age group surveyed, was the majority in favour less than 50%. A total of 44% of them answered yes and 22% who said no. That still left a two to one in favour when the undecideds were excluded.
Support was also softer amongst Catholics with half (51%) in favour, 28% against and 21% with no stated opinion.
Sharing is the policy of all the parties in the Executive, including Sinn Fein, of which Education Minister John O’Dowd is a member. The Executive as a whole is committed to promoting a more shared and integrated society.
Underscoring this social objective are an estimated 85,000 empty desks in our schools.
As a result education budgets — and teaching jobs — have been cut back to the extent than only 8% of newly-qualified teachers can find employment.
The survey also featured a number of separate questions from our polling partners Deloitte-CBI Commissioners Network and Momentum.
Deloitte-CBI Commissioners Network, which was set up to examine best practice within the public sector, asked: “Would you accept a private business, charity, or social enterprise running some of NI’s public services, at the same level of service quality?” The results found that 77% of people who expressed an opinion would accept it.
The proviso at the end of the question that the contractors would maintain “the same level of service quality” will have increased support for the idea by removing any element of risk. Still, support was strong, even amongst public sector workers whose jobs might be affected by contracting out. A considerable 61% of them said yes, rising to 70% when don’t knows were stripped out.
There was broad agreement that competition in the public and private sector would improve performance and also strong support for closing and replacing failing public services.
These answers will all encourage the Executive parties, particularly the DUP, who want to bring in social enterprises like charities and businesses to run some public services. The plan is to save money and rebalance the economy towards the private sector.
Another proposition which found general acceptance was increasing performance transparency in the police, the health service and education. This was backed by 83% of people who expressed an opinion. It was particularly popular amongst the top AB social category, 91% of whom endorsed it.
Momentum, the Information and Computer Technology (ICT) trade association, asked several interesting questions in the poll.
They found that 28% of those who expressed an opinion, and most did, felt that the Government should prioritise computing and technology when it came to allocating funds for education. The other sectors offered were the public sector (21%), engineering (17%), agri food (21%) and accounting and business (13%).
The computer technology sector was regarded as most important of very important engines of job creation by 64% of people expressing an opinion. Three out of four people (76%) felt that ICT would affect their lives a lot more in the next 5 years and this feeling was broadly reflected across all demographic groups.
Perhaps surprisingly then, only 10% thought the ICT profession was the most important of a range of jobs; 41% plumped for a doctor, 20% for a lawyer, 14% for a public servant, 10% for an engineer and 5% for people who work in sales or marketing.
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The polling methodology
Polling was carried out by telephone using 24 questions that were supplied by, and agreed with, the Belfast Telegraph and other poll project partners (CBI and Momentum).
The poll questions were agreed with the project partners with the aim of determining an accurate representation.
The poll was carried out by interviewing a random sample of 1,267 residents, aged 18+, via telephone between May 6-26.
LucidTalk are members of the British Polling Council (BPC), which is the primary professional and standards body for polling organisations in the UK. As laid down by the BPC, LucidTalk follows professional Polling and Market Research methodologies, and would be pleased to answer any questions regarding the poll results.
All Data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-3.6% at 95% confidence.