Smoke and mirrors of the shared education agenda exposed
The issue of education of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland has long been a controversial subject, and the latest comments from Professor Alan Smith from the University of Ulster will cause people to look more closely at the cost of shared education and to query whether this represents value for money.
Professor Smith suggests that it may be mainly a diversion to pour so much money into what is essentially separate schooling rather than in tackling the basic issue of segregated education.
Some of the facts of the current education system illustrate its limits. At present more than 90% of our children attended schools associated with one identity, and it is claimed that segregated education costs £80m a year.
Large sums have been invested in shared education, but it is disturbing to discover that only two-thirds of the programmes are truly cross-community and that investment in shared schooling has reached £25m in only four years.
It is also revealing that the first shared campus, at Lisanelly in Omagh, will cost £125m, and that Stormont wants to create 10 of these by 2018.
At a time when some 2,500 teachers and support staff may lose their jobs because of proposed cuts, people will ask why so much is being spent on shared education which does not appear to be cost-effective.
One of the most telling comments comes from Tina Merron, the chief executive of the Integrated Education Fund. She says: "Surely it is time to commission an independent and scrupulous look at the economic costs and benefits of a truly shared single education system rather than diverting public money to a project which will be short-lived and will serve as a smokescreen for continuing divisions among young people."
No one is suggesting that integration is the answer to all our problems or that everything should be integrated. However, Professor Smith has blown the lid on the waste of public money on shared education projects and the "smoke and mirrors" which surround this controversial approach to the education of our young people.