Maddy Bridgman, IEF Press Officer, says it’s time to do things differently.
We have – you have – until 26 October to submit a response to the Area-based plans for post-primary education. Perhaps the best response is to sweep the lot aside and make fresh suggestions. The Minister has asked for “innovative and creative” solutions to the challenges facing the education system: challenges which include constrained budgets, surplus places, the need to improve and maintain academic standards and the need to train pupils for jobs in an evolving technological landscape. And, surely, the need to address the current narrow and segregated nature of the school experience which we currently offer to so many young people.
The proposals on the table from the Education Boards are not inspiring – in fact in many instances there is no definite vision, but a vague pledge to consider options or keep an eye on developments. And where the Boards do offer anything concrete for stakeholders or the wider community to really assess, they have so often played a numbers game, basing predictions for future demand on current realities. This means the only model considered is the one we currently have; if there is no integrated school in an area now, then there is none in the projected delivery of education for that area. This betrays a complete failure of imagination and a lack of awareness or understanding of the widespread parental demand for integration.
Indeed, the concept of cross-community education seems to have been widely sidestepped, in spite of the explicit requirements of the terms of reference for the planning exercise.
John O’Dowd recently stressed “The terms of reference require the boards and the CCMS to engage actively with the other school sectors and their representative bodies. The plans will report the extent of that engagement, and I will consider the appropriateness of the level of engagement when I assess the revised plans following the consultation.” Yet recently at a public meeting to discuss the plans, it was admitted that even the Board and the CCMS had had little discussion in some areas.
So – perhaps fortunately – it’s been left to the wider community to come up with real alternatives (such as the innovative “Cradle to Career” campus being suggested for Coleraine). It’s up to us to think of how we want this and future generations to grow up, and to envisage who will be learning next to whom, in what sort of a building and under what kind of an education system.
There is one question on the online consultation form asking respondents to say which sector “represents your general interests” –trying to force everyone into boxes or silos. It also, again, asks people to align themselves somewhere within an existing pattern of education delivery. And if, for example, you were unable to get your child a place at an integrated primary, but you are intending to apply for a place at an integrated second-level school, which sector do you choose?
It’s surely time we shook ourselves free of the limitations of the existing system – it’s the only way we can truly envisage a new future. Any proposals based on a minor tweak of the pattern of provision we have now are short-sighted and wrong-headed, missing a major and rare opportunity to design something better. As the man said, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.