Belfast Telegraph

Integrated schools ‘roadmap to end division’ in Northern Ireland

By Rebecca Black

There should be a single authority for the administration and planning of education in Northern Ireland, the Integrated Education Fund has said.

Extending fair employment legislation to cover the recruitment of teachers is another objective in the body's Alternative Manifesto, which was launched yesterday at Stormont.

Children Keisha Fee and Jamie Nesbitt, from Mallusk Integrated Primary School, presented the plan to MLAs from each of the main parties at the launch event.

IEF director Richard Lemon described the document as a "roadmap of achievable steps to move us away from the current divisive nature of our education system".

It includes a call for the Education Authority to make integrated education "the primary focus" of the area planning process, and says that there should even be a "presumption that any new schools to be established should be integrated - subject to community consultation". It calls for the Department of Education to develop and introduce a single model of governance for schools, instead of the current variety of bodies, along with one single authority for the administration and planning of education in Northern Ireland.

The document also urges the government to set a target to increase the percentage of pupils going to integrated schools to 10% by 2021 - and to plan to meet it.

Currently, around 7% of school aged children in Northern Ireland are educated in schools which are officially integrated.

Speaking at the document's launch, Mr Lemon said that Northern Ireland "currently supports an effectively segregated education system".

"This is dependent on duplicated resources and unwieldy bureaucracy at a time of severe budget pressures.

"At the same time, we see continuing social division and increasing concern about educational outcomes.

"This manifesto is about a holistic approach which would direct resources to improving outcomes and will contribute to a future cohesive community," he said.

The event was sponsored by Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle and education spokespeople from Stormont parties were among the invited audience.

Mr Lyttle said: "If we are to have a society where everyone is respected, we need to start by respecting parents' wishes to have their children educated together in an integrated ethos.

"The education of our children together is a vital step towards building the united community the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to see."

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt presented his own vision for education, saying he believes a single education system is the best tool available to tackle the "toxic legacy of sectarianism in our society".

Mr Nesbitt added: "Mixing children from age four would provide a virtual inoculation against sectarian thoughts.

"As we approach Northern Ireland's centenary, I can think of no finer way to enter the next hundred years than with a commitment to educating all our children together."

Sinn Fein's Education spokesperson Karen Mullan said: "Sinn Fein welcome the launch of IEF's Alternative Manifesto so close to the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

"The duty to encourage and facilitate integrated education is an important part of that agreement and successive Sinn Fein ministers have sought to build on that as a crucial element of moving to a genuinely reconciled society."

You can find the Alternative Manifesto on the IEF website: https:// /resources/publications/

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