Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Education reforms not radical enough

While the language recently has not been encouraging, it does seem that after all, the public support for integrated education in Northern Ireland is being heeded by education authorities.

 In the area plans, proposals to merge some integrated schools with other post-primary institutions have been shelved and pupil numbers at other integrated schools are being increased.

The is official recognition of the desire of many people to have their children educated together, breaking down what has been described as the education apartheid in the province.

But will this development, welcome though it is, mean that a radical reform of the education system here could be in the offing? The answer would appear to be in the negative. For, at the same time, proposals to create shared education – Catholic and state schools sharing the same site or becoming co-educational – have been axed. A majority of those who responded to the proposal to create a shared school in Ballycastle gave it the thumbs down because it could lead to a loss of sense of religious identity among one group of pupils or the erosion of political identity and culture of the other.

That demonstrates the strong feelings that can be aroused when radical change is proposed.

Integrated education has worked because the parents who send their children to those schools do so freely and by choice. Many more want to do so, but the acid test will be when Catholic schools, in particular, feel that their existence is threatened by a widening availability of integrated education and will dig in their heels to ensure their continuation.

Education Minister John O'Dowd may have another fight on his hands over plans to move some grammar schools out of Belfast as the number of pupils coming into the city from other areas grows. Research into the problem is to be conducted, but educationalists feel that it would make sense to relocate schools closer to catchment areas. This they feel would create a better sense of community as well as being environmentally sounder. It is a valid argument, but not everyone will accept it.

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