Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Integrated education is our right

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

In his article for the Belfast Telegraph (DebateNI, August 20), Education Minister John O'Dowd observed that shared and integrated education are complementary and that "increasing shared education should be welcomed".

Everyone should, indeed, welcome and encourage all steps, no matter how small, which will eventually lead us to an education system where all our children, regardless of religion, ethnicity, social class or ability, are sitting side by side in the same classroom every day.

The minister rightly points to the importance of parents having the freedom to choose the type of school they want for their child.

Unfortunately, as a recent ruling in the High Court highlighted, the minister and his officials denied that choice to many parents who wanted to send their children to Drumragh Integrated College.

The current area-based planning process should offer the minister the opportunity to ensure parental choice is at the very heart of the education system by creating a mechanism which reflects real parental demand, rather than one which ratifies the existing institutional, or sectoral, structures.

Community auditing would enable input from all stakeholders, delivering local area solutions and helping to narrow the gap between sectoral interests and the views and aspirations of the community.

Any future planning for our education system must include the views of the community.

Education planning which does not take parental demand or aspiration into consideration is neither sufficient nor acceptable.

It cannot be left solely to existing education providers, or sectors, to determine the future of schools in any area.

The minister stated that: "Integrated education is one of a number of sectors here and each plays an equally important role in the overall education landscape."

Many believe that integrated education is not a sector, but a movement for change.

It embodies the aspirations of wider society for a more inclusive, just, sustainable and equitable Northern Ireland.

Tina Merron is chief executive of the Integrated Education Fund

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