Editor's Viewpoint: School proposals could be the way forward
Education remains a vexed subject in Northern Ireland, and any suggestion for change is almost bound to create arguments.
It is against this background that a senior Church of Ireland cleric, the Reverend Ian Ellis, has suggested that schools run jointly by the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches could provide a shared Christian ethos in which children of both main traditions could be educated together.
The Reverend Ellis is secretary of the Transferor Representatives Council which helps to oversee the provision of education in Protestant schools, and he is a well-respected figure.
Children from both denominations already share educational resources in many places, but the Reverend Ellis is suggesting the creation of schools with an overarching Christian ethos, within which there would be provision for the accommodation of differences.
In essence there could be separate teaching of the Roman Catholic sacraments and also provision for Protestants to receive an education in association with their core syllabus. Part of these proposals result from the current policies where rural schools are being closed through lack of numbers, and the pupils are being transported to larger centres.
It could make economic sense to amalgamate smaller Protestant and Catholic schools and to share resources while preserving the authentic local character of educational provision.
The Reverend Ellis is careful to present his proposal as an idea which has worked elsewhere, and one which might be worth considering here. It would require more detailed study, but it is a suggestion that may have real merit. Shared education will not solve all our community ills, but it can only help to develop greater understanding between our children who are our citizens of the future.
Last year the First Minister Peter Robinson criticised the current system as a "benign form of apartheid", which led to a knee-jerk reaction from the Catholic Church about the defence of its particular ethos.
This is an important debate, and the intervention by the Reverend Ellis deserves serious consideration.
Certainly there's a need for new thinking, outside our familiar educational strait-jackets.