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Let's back integrated education

By India Fahy

At the beginning of this month, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams TD spoke out about the growing controversy in the Republic of Ireland over school patronage.

Mr Adams' sentiment was that the Irish education system must serve all children regardless of creed, and on that basis, he posited that it is not in anyone's best interests for the vast majority of schools to remain under the control of the church.

After all, as Mr Adams rightly stated, "it is the taxpayers' money, not the church, that funds the education system, and Irish parents are demanding greater choice".

I warmly welcome this sentiment.

In his comments, Mr Adams touched on an integral element of our campaign - parental choice and demand.

Integrated education is about providing choice to those parents who wish to send their child to an integrated school.

Two-thirds of those questioned in an opinion poll carried out by LucidTalk in 2013 said that they believed integrated schools should be the main model of our education system.

Unfortunately, the reality is that our government at Stormont is not responding adequately to this demand.

In a recent interview, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, said that if he was faced with a blank slate, there is no doubt that he would create a single, integrated, education system.

But as he does not have a blank slate, Mr McGuinness views an alternative policy - "shared education" - as something of a stepping stone towards the end goal of integration.

From what I make of the shared education proposal, it appears that, rather than allowing parents to continue freely choosing to send their children to integrated schools, this policy is instead artificially forcing them to share facilities on a campus, which, in my view, is not really shared education at all.

The question that I ask is, why are we building an artificial stepping stone rather than helping to cement the bridge which is already being built?

  • India Fahy is a law student at the London School of Economics. She is secretary and a founding member of the Integrated Education Alumni Association

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