21 Aug

Integrated Education is our right

By Tina Merron, Chief Executive of the Integrated Education Fund.

In his article for the Belfast Telegraph (DebateNI, August 20), Education Minister John O’Dowd observed that shared and integrated education are complementary and that “increasing shared education should be welcomed”. Everyone should indeed welcome and encourage all steps, no matter how small, which will eventually lead us to an education system where all our children, regardless of religion, ethnicity, social class or ability, are sitting side by side in the same classroom every day.

The Minister rightly points to the importance of parents having the freedom to choose the type of school they want for their child. Unfortunately, as a recent ruling in the High Court highlighted, the Minister and his officials denied that choice to many parents who wanted to send their children to Drumragh Integrated College. (more…)

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6 Aug

Integrated Education – The Key to a Shared Future

Robert Magee, recent graduate of Politics with Criminology at the University of Ulster, member of the Washington Ireland Program’s Class of 2014 and alum of Lagan College.

Albert Einstein said ‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning’. This has a lot of resonance in regards to the current educational situation in Northern Ireland. Sixteen years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland is enjoying relative peace. Yet, despite efforts to promote integration in our political institutions, the teaching system still remains fundamentally segregated.

Integrated education is a passion of mine. Growing up in a predominately Loyalist estate of South Belfast, cross-community interaction was extremely limited. However, following the now defunct Eleven Plus examination, I had the invaluable opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my older sister and attend Lagan College – a decision which undoubtedly changed my life. Here, ill-informed fallacies and misconceptions that I had previously held were replaced with a more open, deeper understanding of all sections of our increasingly diverse society. (more…)

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24 Jul

Lord Brian Mawhinney, former Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, says it’s time to comply with legislation he introduced 25 years ago

As the role of schools in promoting respect for religious and cultural difference is under the microscope in England, it is timely to reflect on the work of Northern Ireland’s integrated education sector in overcoming division.

When I became Northern Ireland’s Education Minister in 1986, 97% of Catholic children went to Catholic schools, as a matter of parental choice.  By definition, therefore, State schools overwhelmingly catered for Protestant children.  Like me, Northern Ireland’s young people grew up having little or no contact with religiously and/or culturally different peers.  It was a system that, whilst not directly responsible for the outbreak of Troubles in 1969, none the less helped to polarise the community along religious and cultural lines.

One of the most memorable moments of my political career was putting integrated education in Northern Ireland on the statute book. The 1989 Education Reform order  placed a statutory duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate integrated education.  I put those words in deliberately because, without them, I was not confident that the Department would throw its weight behind facilitating those parents who wanted integrated education for their children. (more…)

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17 Jul

Young people deserve a focus on the future

An opinion piece by Tina Merron, Chief Executive, Integrated Education Fund.

The threat to Stormont institutions during discussions of parades and flags has served to amplify the divisive nature of politics in Northern Ireland, highlighting that our politicians are letting down voters past, present and, most importantly, future. Many young people have no memory of any administration prior to the Good Friday Agreement or the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly and we owe it to them to look forward. (more…)

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9 Jul

‘Separate but equal, and shared’?

An opinion piece by Chris Moffat, a former teacher, education  journalist and rights campaigner and was one of the founders of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.

Once again the usual marching circus is in full throttle in the papers and blogs. The irony is that commentators have ignored the most relevant news. Minister of Education John O’Dowd’s has launched the Shared Education Campus programme; but he hasn’t addressed the High Court’s recent clarification of the distinction between ‘shared’ and ‘integrated’ education.

As a rights issue this raises some interesting questions. A right to integrated education has been more honoured in the breach for 25 years. Why wasn’t it discussed at St Andrews, or Weston Park? Why haven’t Equality Northern Ireland and the Human Rights Commission raised it at the UN? Why hasn’t the ‘human rights community’ challenged discrimination against integrated education by Department of Education all these years? Why is this not in the Haass Talks? (more…)

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27 Jun

Faith schools? Education must embrace those of all faiths and none

An opinion piece by Baroness May Blood, IEF Campaign Chair

The moral panic surrounding the so-called “Trojan horse” issue relating to some schools in Birmingham shows some disturbing but perhaps not surprising elements of modern society.  The issue has resonances of the Northern Ireland situation.  In the comments and columns which have followed the news, we see evidence of an innate mistrust of the “other” and an increasing cultural fragmentation of communities, underpinned by the state via the education system.

The UK is becoming ever more diverse but it should not become ever more divided.  This is a case where school leaders in Westminster and in local authorities could learn from Northern Ireland – where schools are being developed to combat division. (more…)

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