Belfast Telegraph

Baroness Blood: Integrated education neglected

By Baroness Blood

The NGO Alternative report to the United Nations should give everyone cause for concern. It's a joint publication from 60 organisations in Northern Ireland urging the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to keep the pressure on politicians to improve young people's lives.

The UNCRC will, in 2016, examine the UK's compliance with its obligations on children's rights, and this report flags up issues of concern before that process begins.

The introduction states, starkly: "…segregation in housing, education, public services and leisure facilities is the daily reality experienced by most children."

The report - compiled by the Children's Law Centre and Save the Children - points out that the UN committee recommended the UK Government in 2008 to "take measures to address segregation of education in Northern Ireland".

It highlights that little has been done: "The failure to plan for and resource the establishment of integrated schools has meant that the status quo of segregated education has been preserved."

Instead, the Department of Education has established an area planning mechanism which not only foresees a continuation of the existing separate education sectors, but also presumes no growth in integrated education.

The minister has been taken to court in a Judicial Review, and the judge ruled that the department's approach to planning for schools constitutes the opposite of the Government's statutory duty to encourage integrated education.

The strongest measure the Executive has taken to address the divided and duplicated nature of our education system is to formulate a policy promoting shared activities between schools.

The NGOs express concern that shared education falls short of integrated education; I agree. The policy will go some way to introduce children to others of different backgrounds and traditions, but not to the same extent as learning and playing together in the same schools every day.

Latest figures show, yet again, hundreds of children turned away from their first choice of an integrated school for September 2015.

Parents want integrated education; the UN urged progress. But the Executive seems to be ignoring both.

  • Baroness (May) Blood is campaign chair of the Integrated Education Fund

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