Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: We are ready to reform education

The open letter in this newspaper today calling for a radical overhaul of Northern Ireland's education system, moving to shared schools, could not be better timed. It is already evident that the current system of state and Catholic schools running in parallel cannot be sustained purely on economic grounds.

More than £900m was spent on the segregated system in 2009/10 while nearly 17,000 places remained unfilled. The Department of Education has a £300m black hole in its budget and the squeeze on public funds will only intensify in the coming years.

Of course there are powerful vested interests in the education system, not least the Catholic Church, and anything which is seen as a move towards total integrated education will be resisted, no matter that the majority of people in the province can see the logical benefit of educating our children, of all faiths, cultures and race, together. But surely as a first step it makes sense to share the schools estate. There are too many empty classrooms in the system at present and the provision of a 24-subject syllabus will be beyond the scope of many schools to deliver.

However logic is not a word often associated with local politics and it would be a brave person who would bet that politicians would agree to move towards shared schooling. That is why the signatories of today's open letter want a commission set up to devise an education system fit for the 21st century. The views of the Education Minister John O'Dowd on the issue - saying it is solely for politicians to take decisions - are not encouraging, if only for the fact the politicians here are more apt to hedge issues than confront them.

This newspaper has consistently supported the idea of educating our children together whether it was called integrated education or shared schooling and it is a principle whose time is now. The economic imperative for change is undeniable and if the politicians cannot grasp this nettle then perhaps a commission will.

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