Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Editor's viewpoint: Shared education will bridge divide in Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph LucidTalk poll on segregated education in Northern Ireland. June 2013

It is evident, yet again, that most people in Northern Ireland want to see progress towards a single education system.

That is the clarion call to the politicians from the latest poll which is reported in this newspaper today. Even allowing for all the caveats which accompany opinion polls, the support for integrated education continues to grow and the voices of those in favour will not be stilled.

This newspaper, which has highlighted the demand for integrated education consistently, recognises that reform of the current dual system is a tricky issue.

That is why we have argued for a full and transparent debate free from vested interests or party political dogma. We are not persuaded that the shared campus model proposed in the latest Stormont blueprint for tackling division is the proper way forward. Instead it actually highlights division, rather than working towards bringing communities together.

The latest poll shows that the people of Northern Ireland are in advance of their politicians in seeing a fundamental way of bridging the sectarian divide. Now they want politicians to take the lead on the issue and prioritise it on the government’s agenda.

Concurrently a report from the Public Accounts Committee shows that there are serious faults in the present system, with one in six pupils leaving primary school without reaching the expected level in literacy and numeracy and that rises to a staggering 40% by the time pupils reach the age of 16. That report also shows that Catholic schools perform better than state schools in these areas.

The bottom line for parents is that they want good schools for their children. Understandably many Catholic parents feel their schools are the best option at the moment, but that is a short sighted argument.

Bringing all schools up to an acceptable standard should not be at the expense of existing high achieving institutions. And there is no reason to believe that creating a single integrated education system would prevent education authorities raising standards throughout.

What is not in dispute is that society would certainly be a better place if pupils of all creeds and cultures were educated side by side in the same classrooms, learning about each other and dispelling all the myths which have beleaguered this province for far too long.

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