Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Integration policy survey is timely

A survey of people's opinions conducted under professional conditions is a very useful piece of work indeed. It makes it very hard for opinion formers of any kind to bluster away the results.

So the survey for the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) conducted by Ipsos MORI is very welcome; its timing deliberate to spark debate during this election campaign, its findings broadly welcomed by the commissioning organisation whose raison d'etre is ending separation in our schools.

It shows overwhelming agreement across our communities that the idea of young people studying together, regardless of their religious background, is to be supported.

It reveals that people are looking to Stormont to take a lead on the issue, but that the establishment of an independent commission to examine all aspects of a possible move to integrated education would be welcome.

Given the massive extra cost associated with duplicate systems, it also reveals people would prefer shared facilities rather than cuts to the different sectors. A vast majority see the benefit of integrated education as a key weapon in fighting sectarianism and promoting reconciliation.

So there is plenty of food for thought here for the education establishments and for our politicians. The least this survey should achieve is for the issue to be centre-stage in this election campaign.

No-one is suggesting there aren't huge issues at stake here. Those who fear for the loss of a religious identity and the teaching of religious morality to our young people have a genuine concern. It is not in anyone's interests to marginalise faith, but neither is it to continue the waste of segregation nor, more importantly, to deny the opportunity of our young people to grow and learn together. Perhaps in the dark days following the death of Ronan Kerr that is something really worth thinking about.

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