Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Integrated sector out in the cold

I am glad that OFMDFM is planning to continue issuing an annual report using the Good Relations Indicators. The title may not mean much to the general public, but their use is important, monitoring the steps we take to normalise society in Northern Ireland.

It's also important to know that the "indicators" used are going to change. Since 2007, the Good Relations Indicators have drawn on a range of research to build a picture of progress towards a more cohesive society.

Now, in the light of the Together: Building a United Community policy, a working group is reconsidering what should be asked to help assess progress.

I understand that actions need to be measured. However, I believe the proposed changes risk diluting expectations.

I am specifically concerned that the issue of integrated education has been discarded. In previous surveys, respondents were asked their opinion on the Government's support for integrated education; this question has been eliminated from the proposed new survey.

This year's report shows that only 52% of people believe that Government is actively encouraging integrated schools. The revised research would remove any monitor of the statutory duty to promote integrated education.

When children learn together, it crucially increases positive attitudes to others, reduces negative stereotypes and encourages cross-community friendships.

The number of projects between schools cannot be seen as the same indicator of unity as the number of children routinely experiencing cross-community contact as part of daily school life.

This suggests a policy shift towards a diminution of effort in moving towards a shared society.

Together: Building a United Community recognises the segregated nature of Northern Ireland's education provision and takes the view that "achieving a full shared education system ... is a crucial part of breaking the cycle of sectarianism".

Now that the situation is openly acknowledged, why are we being diverted from measuring accurately the progress we have made – or, perhaps, not made?

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