Northern Ireland

Stormont criticised on integrated schools

Child holding hands
Image caption Currently, the department only has a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate integrated schools

Stormont has failed to "lead the planning, development and growth of integrated education", according to a Department of Education review.

It calls for DE and bodies such as the Education Authority, to actively promote integrated education.

Currently, the department only has a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate integrated schools.

The authors make recommendations to tackle "the long-standing issue of our separate and costly schooling".

However, they reject proposals that parents should indicate what school they want their child to go to when registering their birth.

'Preferences'

"Stakeholders believed this would allow a more pro-active approach to planning for integrated education in response to demand," said the DE report.

But it concludes that it would not be feasible to base planning decisions on preferences made four to five years in advance.

The authors are also critical of teacher-training in Northern Ireland, claiming that young teachers are "trained to be familiar with and teach in approximately one half of the schools across Northern Ireland only".

They recommend that teachers should no longer be exempt from fair employment regulations.

They claim this would end the practice of controlled schools employing mainly Protestant teachers while maintained schools employ mainly Catholic teachers.

The authors also say that shared education "should not be seen as a pathway to integrated education".

The report calls for a number of other measures including:

  • The Education Authority "actively and explicitly planning" to increase the number of pupils educated in integrated schools
  • The construction of two "innovation hubs" in Belfast and Londonderry which could be used by all schools to teach creativity, innovation and business entrepreneurship
  • A network of integrated sixth form colleges independent of schools

In integrated education, schools aim to enrol approximately equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds.

There are currently 65 integrated schools in Northern Ireland, attended by 6.9% of pupils.

The first, Lagan College, opened in Belfast in 1981.

Forty-one per cent of integrated school pupils are from a Protestant background and 36% are from a Catholic background.

However, the report reveals that 32 integrated schools have fewer than 30% of pupils drawn from the minority community in their area.

Image caption The review was commissioned by the former Education Minister John O'Dowd in January 2016

Four of those have fewer than 10% of pupils from the minority community.

The review was commissioned by the former Education Minister John O'Dowd in January 2016.

He said it would be an opportunity to examine the growth and development of integrated education in the 21st Century.

He appointed the president of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education Colm Cavanagh and Prof Margaret Topping to carry it out.

It was completed in November 2016.

Publishing it was outgoing Education Minister Peter Weir's final act in his term of office.

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