Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

A lost chance for shared schooling

In October 2010 First Minister Peter Robinson described Northern Ireland's education system as a benign form of apartheid.

While some opponents regarded this as an attack on the Catholic education system, many others regarded his words as a true description. The subsequent establishment of a Ministerial Working group was seen as progress towards how a shared system of schooling might work. It was not regarded as the body to deliver a road map towards a fully integrated education but rather as setting the foundation for an informed debate on the issue.

But to describe the group's report yesterday as disappointing is a gross under-estimation of the sense of deflation felt by those who want to see our children learn about each other together. The concept of integrated education – one which consistently gains widespread support in the community – is barely mentioned in the report.

It talks about shared education, but as this newspaper has pointed out in the past, that can mean as much or as little as anyone wants it to. It can be simply bringing pupils from differing traditions together two or three times a year, or it can mean sharing some facilities but no little action towards a meeting of minds.

What the report does concern itself greatly about is academic selection. It is damning in its estimation of the grammar – secondary school divide. But was that the purpose of the group's establishment or is it more in line with the Education Minister's party policy? This newspaper believes that there is a valid debate to be had on academic selection but this, surely, was not the time.

Yet again this administration has failed to get to grips with a difficult issue. Is there really anyone who doesn't believe that our children should be educated together, whilst respecting their individual religious and cultural ethos? But this report will not further that necessary move. Instead it is likely to go straight into the shredder or will be left to gather dust. An opportunity to take a meaningful step forward towards a truly shared future has, shamefully, been lost.

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