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Let's act on integrated education

By Johnny Andrews

Published 09/12/2015

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

The Education Minister, John O'Dowd, and his Sinn Fein predecessors have failed to support children learning together, even though polls consistently show support for integrated education.

In contrast, Conservatives believe that our mainstream schools could be integrated by 2025 if the political will were there and financial incentives put in place.

Division still disfigures our society, so we need a system based on collaboration, where young people of different backgrounds are educated together.

It is no longer tenable for taxpayers to subsidise segregation, which is estimated to cost the economy £1bn.

Shared campuses are not integrated and have been discredited by the UN as a waste.

Similarly, we cannot afford to sustain four institutions, including two colleges in Belfast, for teacher training divided along sectarian lines. The DUP, SDLP and UUP have allied themselves with Sinn Fein to keep teacher training segregated.

NI Conservatives will prioritise cutting waste and support creating a single, non-denominational system of teacher education.

We need to foster academic excellence, but equally we need institutions that provide a more vocational emphasis and tackle underachievement.

Northern Ireland's education system is highly regarded, in spite of successive ministers showing hostility to some of our most successful schools. Sinn Fein ministers have done lasting harm, but we have excellent teachers and our pupils, parents and schools have proved remarkably resilient, so the damage is reversible.

We need to ensure we give our young people good careers advice, including ensuring that they have the skills our economy needs to compete in a global marketplace. We need more emphasis on Stem subjects, computer programming and building enterprise.

Politicians continue to pay lip service to integrated education, while the public wants real action.

We need a new, radical dispensation in education and a new thinking in Government to create a truly integrated education system, which will drive a dynamic private sector and give our children the confidence and opportunities they deserve.

  • Johnny Andrews is NI Conservatives' spokesman on the economy

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