Belfast Telegraph

Kicked by all sides ... integrated movement must be doing something right

By Lindsay Fergus

It's a worrying time for the integrated movement.

Not only has the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) called for the removal of the legislative protection enjoyed by the integrated sector, but now the DUP - the largest unionist party - has done the same.

It comes on the back of other recent disappointments for integrated education, which has not seen a new school open in years.

In November Education Minister John O'Dowd turned down a development proposal by Clintyclay Primary, a Catholic maintained school on the outskirts of Dungannon, for transformation. Had Mr O'Dowd given the green light to the application, it would have been the first Catholic school to transform to integrated.

Popular integrated schools such as Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh have also been refused permission to take in additional pupils. So it appears that the integrated sector, which educates around 22,000 Protestant and Catholic pupils, as well as those from other backgrounds, is getting kicked from all sides - so it must be doing something right.

The reality is that the integrated sector on one hand is a threat to the controlled sector, which is predominantly favoured by pupils from a Protestant background despite being non-denominational, and the Catholic maintained sector on the other hand.

CCMS slated the integrated sector in October for educating just 7% of primary and post-primary pupils after 30 years, while the DUP believes that if integrated education is as popular as its supporters claim, it's time for it to stand on its own feet like the controlled, Catholic maintained and voluntary grammar sectors.

The DUP policy and comments, which come ahead of this year's Westminster elections, may be a blow to integrated education, but in reality they are no threat to the movement, which has its sights set on educating 10% of all primary and post-primary pupils within the next three years.

And that is not beyond the realms of possibility, with several schools now at various stages of the transformation process, including at least two controlled.

According to the Integrated Education Fund, the DUP's call to remove the statutory duty to encourage and facilitate integrated education would require renegotiating the Good Friday Agreement, which was ratified by 71% of Northern Ireland voters.

Also, if the DUP wanted to repeal Article 64 of the 1989 Order (see below), it would need the support of the Executive, or to be more precise, Sinn Fein. That is never going to happen as that in turn could present a threat to the safeguard afforded to Irish- medium education, which is a key Sinn Fein focus.

Belfast Telegraph


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