Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Choice in education essential: Shared and integrated education are not in opposition – they are complementary

Northern Ireland Education Minister John O'Dowd
Northern Ireland Education Minister John O'Dowd

Contrary to the Belfast Telegraph's recent article (DebateNI, August 12), shared and integrated education are not in opposition – they are complementary.

Integrated schools are, by their nature, reflective of the two main communities and, as such, they have much good practice to share.

I want to see them actively engage in collaborating with other schools for the benefit of our children and young people.

However, it is clear that communities, parents and pupils want a range of options for collaborative education.

Increasing shared education will result in more of our young people being educated together and a wider range of choice. Surely this should be welcomed?

Shared and integrated education must not be pitted against each other if we are to truly mature as a society and stand a chance of delivering the world-class education system that it is claimed we have.

It is important that parents have the freedom to choose the type of sector they wish for their child.

It is not for me to dictate what they choose, but it is my responsibility to provide meaningful choice.

Integrated education is one of a number of sectors here and each plays an equally important role in the overall education landscape.

The level of integrated education here has grown in line with parental demand and I will continue to fulfil my statutory duty to encourage and facilitate integrated education to meet that demand.

There is a process in place to accommodate the wishes of sectors, parents and the wider community as to whether an integrated school will meet the local needs.

The development proposal process is essential if we are to accurately meet the educational needs of an area.

I will continue to consider on a case-by-case basis any development proposal submitted to my department to establish an integrated school.

John O'Dowd MLA is Minister for Education

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