Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

We need fairness in Northern Ireland education

DUP's Mervyn Storey
DUP's Mervyn Storey

When Protestant churches handed their schools to the state in the 1930s/40s, it was anticipated the controlled system would become the state system.

But things didn't work out that way.

Although the controlled sector has developed a wide variety of schools (Irish-medium, Catholic and integrated) and educates children from all communities, the majority come from the Protestant community.

The Catholic Church provides education for the majority of children from a Catholic background; there are a significant number of voluntary schools and the integrated and Irish-medium sectors add further choice. All receive 100% state funding.

A number of bodies have been established by the department. CCMS, NI Council for Integrated Education and Irish-medium body Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta all promote their brand of state education.

However, education and library boards, with responsibility for the controlled sector, can't promote it, as they are required to be non-partisan.

So, in large parts of Northern Ireland, the Protestant community, which is largely served by controlled schools, feels voiceless. For example, the Southern Education and Library Board has attempted to force through solutions for the controlled sector in Craigavon, which don't have the support of that community.

Yet trustees of the state-funded maintained sector also have representatives on the SELB, deciding what type of schooling is available to parents in the controlled sector. That is not equality of treatment.

My party has called for a single education system.

We believe it's possible to construct new arrangements, whereby all sectors are represented within a single body. However, the minister shows no sign of wanting to repeal legislation favouring certain sectors.

It would appear that there needs to be a body to promote the controlled sector.

Unless the new structures treat all sectors equally, we cannot hope to build an education system to move our community forward.

  • Mervyn Storey MLA is chairman of the Stormont education committee

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