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How we can mend education in Northern Ireland

By Noreen Campbell

Published 14/10/2015

The latest report into education presents a damning indictment of our system. Picture posed
The latest report into education presents a damning indictment of our system. Picture posed

The latest report into education presents a damning indictment of our system.

The report - commissioned by the Equality Commission and carried out by Queen's University Belfast - tells us nothing new.

It describes the inequalities that continue to mar our system and which condemn a significant number of young people to an underachievement which prevents them from fulfilling their potential. It highlights racist and homophobic bullying. It exposes the cost of segregation.

It focuses on the continued under-performance of Protestant boys, in particular, and can identify such comparative failure easily because we educate our children separately in segregated schools and in secondary schools perceived as second class.

The report, in its depiction of racist bullying and in its description of young people's fear of institutions they perceive to be the "other", further emphasises the faults of a divisive system.

This is only the latest of such reports. We know the problems; we must find solutions which will ensure a quality education for all.

We need to create in our post-primary sectors the ethos which is to be found in the best of our primary schools: a balanced, all-ability intake representative of all social classes, a co-educational environment where boys and girls learn together, an integrated, inclusive environment welcoming to both of our major traditions, to those of different faiths, of no faith and of different ethnicities.

There are 64 integrated schools explicitly committed to this ethos of educational excellence. It will take goodwill and a willingness to prioritise the future over the past to make this happen.

Unfortunately, education has become politicised. Party politics trump the needs of young people and the needs of future society.

It is time for an independent commission to remove the debate on education away from politics and back into the classroom.

The aim of such a commission would be simple: to identify the quality educational system which will liberate the talents and creativity of all of our children and which will support the building of the inclusive, prosperous and cohesive society we all deserve.

  • Noreen Campbell is chief executive officer of the Northern Ireland Council For Integrated Education

Belfast Telegraph

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