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Education needs Patten-style review: Integrated sector

By Rebecca Black

There must be a Patten-style review of the provision of education in Northern Ireland, according to the body that represents integrated schools.

The NI Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) made the call in its submission to a Stormont inquiry into shared and integrated education.

Earlier this month the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) told the same inquiry that Stormont's statutory requirement to encourage and facilitate integrated education should be dropped.

CCMS slated the integrated sector for educating just 7% of primary and post-primary pupils after 30 years, arguing that demand should be reassessed.

Now NICIE has made its own submission and reminded the Department of Education to be "alive" to its duty towards the integrated sector.

The body has argued that our present segregrated system of education is not sustainable.

"The duplication and triplicating of resources is expensive, in this era of austerity we cannot justify the use of constrained resources to prioritise the maintenance of vested interests over the educational needs of our young people" it said.

NICIE made a number of recommendations, including that the Department of Education, headed by minister John O'Dowd, actively implements its commitment to enourage and facilitate integrated education, guarantee equality of planning for integrated education, ensure the new Education Authority encourages the integrated sector, ensure equality of choice in all areas and to sign off a clear and unambiguous definition of shared education.

Its biggest call is for a Patten-style inquiry into education in Northern Ireland.

NICIE claimed in its submission that the greatest barrier to the expansion of integrated education lay in the "discriminatory and unequal approach to planning".

"The process of area-based planning has exacerbated the situation with ELBs and CCMS planning for their own sectors," it said. "No consideration is given to whether or not an integrated choice should be considered and parents are not consulted on such a possibility. This is despite the evidence of all polls which show strong parental preference for integrated education."

The Stormont inquiry will be examining both integrated and shared education.

NICIE said it was concerned that shared education projects between schools were being used "as an alternative to rather than a tool for change".

"A clarity of definition is urgently required, not least because of the £70m funding which is going to be made available to shared education projects over the next five years," it said.

There are now almost 22,000 children attending 62 nursery, primary and post-primary integrated schools in Northern Ireland.

The Integrated Education Fund plans to grow the number of children educated at integrated schools from 7% to 10% in the next three years.

Story so far

Stormont’s education committee has commenced an inquiry into shared and integrated education.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) controversially used its submission to call for the scrapping of the legislative obligation for Stormont to enourage and facilitate the development of integrated education.

The inquiry seeks to establish a definition for shared education and also to make a number of recommendations moving forward. It will report back to the Assembly next year.

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