Belfast Telegraph

Integration key 'if small schools are to survive'

By Michael McHugh

Keeping many rural schools in Northern Ireland open will require merging them into integrated education, a leading funding expert has said.

Sir Robert Salisbury, who completed a review of how schooling is paid for on behalf of the Department of Education in 2013, said amalgamations and closures of small schools are inevitable.

"Our divided system exacerbates this and in truth, keeping many rural schools open will only be achieved by merging schools into 'integrated' establishments.

"Communities threatened with any school closure should always be given the option to consider a cross-sector amalgamation in order to maintain a school in the area, rather than accepting the present 'segregated' area planning process which is now in place."

He said change will have to come because Northern Ireland has too many small schools and too many types of school which can no longer be funded.

"Teachers and governors frequently complain about the lack of funding to run their schools properly, but in fact there is ample money in the system overall, but with so many schools to maintain, resources are spread too thinly."

Sir Robert said shared education had become fashionable but would have little long-term impact.

"Some schemes are clearly designed as a survival device to protect small schools which may be under threat, thus prolonging the issues raised above," he said.

"Some schemes which have young people sharing the same building but having different uniforms and entering by separate doors are patently absurd and a better way to perpetuate difference is hard to imagine."

Sir Robert added that although virtually every political or educational observer from outside Northern Ireland sees its divided educational system as one of the root causes of tensions, most political and religious leaders continually deny this and resist the development of an integrated system.

Belfast Telegraph


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