Belfast Telegraph

Parental control shaping education

The argument for more inclusive education in Northern Ireland grows stronger day by day. It makes no economic sense to have parallel Catholic and State systems, neither of which are working to near full capacity at a time when every penny counts. But the vested interests in education are strong and breaking down the barriers is a difficult and painstaking task.

However, the strongest impetus for greater sharing in education can come from parents, especially if they take an enlightened approach like those Protestant parents in Bangor who have decided to send their children to a local Catholic secondary school. Half the pupils at St Columbanus' College in the town are Protestants, of different faiths or none.

What those parents have recognised is that St Columbanus' College is a fine school, which provides a good level of education and very strong pastoral care.

They obviously feel the values promoted by the school will serve their children well and outweigh any reservations they may have about sending them to a Catholic school. This is parent power in action, deciding that a shared school - not an integrated one - is the best solution to their educational needs.

And they are not alone. Some 3,400 children by-passed their normal State schools to go to Catholic schools and while that is a very small percentage of the total of schoolchildren in the province, it is double the figure at the beginning of the decade. What all these parents are saying is that they want the best provision possible for their children and that may mean crossing what were previously rigid boundaries.

This is a message that Education Minister John O'Dowd should heed as he continues his audit of schools in the province. Sharing resources and classrooms to provide better outcomes for pupils makes much more sense than running wasteful parallel systems.

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