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Border should not be an issue in choosing a school: minister

By Claire Harrison

Parents should have the right to send their children across the border to school in the Republic, Education Minister John O'Dowd has said.

Mr O'Dowd was speaking to the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers Organisation in Killarney yesterday.

He said parents should have the right to choose and the border should not be an issue.

“People are not emigrating, they are moving across a line on a map,” he said.

“Their social connections, their economic connections, their community connections, their heritage, their cultural connections all remain the same.

“People quite rightly want to be able to educate their children in the nearest school.”

The Sinn Fein minister told delegates of plans for a survey of families living in Northern Ireland and the Republic about sending their children to schools across the border.

Both education departments recently agreed to carry out a survey in schools and community groups in border areas with the aim of developing greater cross-border movement of pupils. Mr O’Dowd also spoke to teachers about on-going work between the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and its Dublin counterpart on areas of mutual benefit.

“Tackling underachievement and promoting the raising of standards for all our young people, especially in the skills of literacy and numeracy, rightly remains a priority across this island,” he said.

“The joint Educational Underachievement Working Group has had a recent focus on the sharing of good practice in this vitally important area and I welcome the progress that has been made. I also continue to work closely with the (Dublin) Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, on a wide range of issues.”

Referring to the cross-border survey, he added: “Minister Quinn and I agreed on the importance of facilitating parental preference in relation to school attendance, irrespective of where their preferred school is located.

“This survey will inform that discussion by establishing demand for cross-border schooling. I hope that the survey generates widespread participation.

“Work is also ongoing on a multi-annual plan for the Middletown Centre for Autism. Proposals on the way forward are to be considered by Minister Quinn and myself at our next North South meeting at the end of May.”

B ackground

Last week it was revealed that 50,000 families are to be surveyed on cross-border education provision. The cross-border education survey is expected to be conducted in September and October by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Department of Education and Skills in Dublin. Up to 50,000 families living on both sides of the border will be asked to take part. Mr O’Dowd has also sought legal advice on the current legislation, which gives priority admission to children living in Northern Ireland.

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