Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

Roadmap needed for shared education

Danny Kinahan MLA is UUP education spokesman and vice-chairman of the Assembly's education committee
Danny Kinahan MLA is UUP education spokesman and vice-chairman of the Assembly's education committee

The Ulster Unionist Party's policy is to work towards a single, shared education system in Northern Ireland.

There has been a lot of talk about shared education here in recent years. So much so, that you could be forgiven for thinking that it is official government policy and is being implemented.

The Bain Report of 2006 talked about promoting sharing and collaboration across all the educational sectors, rather than formal integration.

Since then, there have been many official reports, reviews, studies and proposals. Area planning was meant to foster sharing of resources, facilities and classes between schools of different types in close geographic proximity. Just last year, we had a report from the ministerial advisory group on advancing shared education. So far, so good, one might think. But what is the reality on the ground?

In spite of a slow increase in the number of pupils attending integrated schools, segregation on the basis of religious denomination remains stubbornly high.

Post-Bain, the Catholic maintained sector did its own thing and independently rationalised its own school estate. The current area planning process is now being taken forward, affecting the other sectors.

This process barely references a major sector of our education system and now pressure is being applied to state-controlled secondary schools to close, or amalgamate with others in the same sector. The result?

In one large town, a Catholic maintained secondary and a state-controlled secondary had, for more than a decade, developed a shared learning community. After the maintained sector rationalised their schools estate, this all stopped. Sharing across the traditional divide ended.

It is not all doom and gloom, and good practice is continuing in some parts of the country.

We understand shared education to mean a long-term strategy to promote more contact and collaboration between schools of different traditions in Northern Ireland. What we need is a roadmap to get us to the end goal of a single system.

Danny Kinahan is Ulster Unionist party MLA for South Antrim

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