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Stormont report urges increase in shared education

By Rebecca Black

Every school in Northern Ireland should take part in some form of shared education, Stormont's education committee has said.

Committee chairman Peter Weir was speaking after a report into shared and integrated education was published.

Most of the 11 recommendations made in the paper focused on expanding shared education, which refers to projects ranging from a single initiative between schools to shared classes and activities.

Just one of the recommendations referred to integrated education, a different sector in which schools are formally integrated and must have a certain percentage of students from the minority tradition in the area it is based.

The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education has blasted the report as a "missed opportunity for reform".

Currently 92% of children here are educated in largely single identity schools.

But Mr Weir stressed the structures of our education system could not be changed overnight.

The education committee spent more than a year hearing evidence, going on school visits and receiving written submissions about both shared and integrated education.

Recommendations included that the statutory obligation on Education Minister John O'Dowd to encourage, facilitate and promote shared education should be extended to the department and all of its relevant arm's-length bodies, and the developing of an inclusive ethos to promote shared education.

The Assembly voted to adopt the report despite objections from Alliance and the Green Party.

Turning to integrated education, Mr Weir said take-up remained low despite the Department of Education's legal obligations to encourage the sector.

"The House will not be surprised to learn that the education committee could not resolve all the issues relating to integrated education," he said.

Then, speaking as a DUP member, Mr Weir said if it had a blank page to design the education system it would not look how it does today, referring to the wide variety of sectors.

He called for the department to show a strong commitment to shared education.

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