Belfast Telegraph

A new body would boost integration

Noreen Campbell is chief executive officer of the Northern Ireland Council For Integrated Education
Noreen Campbell is chief executive officer of the Northern Ireland Council For Integrated Education

By Noreen Campbell

Integrated Education Week 2015 was launched at a wonderful performance by the children of Oakgrove Integrated Primary School and Nursery in Derry. The finale was amazing: 400 children on stage, singing together for their future, children aged four to 11, boys and girls, Catholics and Protestants, those of other religions and of none.

This illustrated perfectly the dictionary definition of integration: "The bringing of people of different racial, or ethnic, groups into unrestricted and equal association, as in society, or an organisation."

This is a scene reflected across Northern Ireland this week as the 22,000 children educated in integrated schools reflect on what they gain from being educated together.

The vast majority do not have this opportunity to learn about, with, from and alongside each other. The vast majority attend single-identity schools, where assumptions are made about them on the basis of perceived religious and cultural identities.

This image of children mixing, sharing and learning together on a daily basis is what the public see when they think of integrated education.

Yet there continues to be much resistance to integrated education. Through area-based planning, there was an opportunity to plan for local communities, rather than sectors. This opportunity was not taken.

Now we have a crisis in the education budget, impacting on all schools.

Surely, now is the time to reform the education system to ensure that quality, inclusive education is not sacrificed to protect vested interests?

For that reason, in this integrated education week, the Northern Ireland Council For Integrated Education renews its call for an independent commission on education.

Such a step would remove education from politics; such a commission would be empowered to research and devise an education system in tune with and able to support our shared future.

The Patten Commission succeeded in framing a new police service; let's do the same for our schools.

Noreen Campbell is chief executive officer of the Northern Ireland Council For Integrated Education

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