We are at a time of unprecedented change and challenge when it comes to education – offering an opportunity to reform our system radically and creatively. Failure to grasp that opportunity would mean passing on the legacy of segregation. It would mean delegating the task of building a shared society to future generations and sidestepping our current duty to address division. It would mean ignoring the wishes of the majority of the public.
The results of the Lucid Talk poll – reported extensively in the Belfast Telegraph – underline the impatience of those surveyed to see segregated structures torn down; voters do not want to wait any longer.
Politicians have created a raft of plans and policies for education but where are the proposals for real reform?
ESA and the current Education Bill retain the traditional foundations of the Northern Ireland education system: seats on the ESA Board are allocated to reflect current vested interests with no representation for the integrated sector.
The area-based plans for post-primary schools have not so far thrown up any imaginative proposals for a better education system.
The Cohesion, Sharing and Integrated policy has not materialised and the Programme for Government only created a group to advise on sharing in education, a group whose Terms of Reference did not mention integrated education.
It seems that current policy is to enshrine and bolster the status quo. Yet these poll results show continuing public support for a single education system, for integrating schools and for offering what voters say is the best preparation for young people facing an increasingly diverse world of work.
The majority of parents questioned said they would support their school becoming an integrated school, yet the same number of respondents did not know that this is possible for any school in Northern Ireland. Why are the department, the boards, the CCMS not letting parents know that this a possible way forward?
It seems that the Executive and the advisors are timid of effecting real reform even though the majority of the public would support such a move. With the current need to address the challenges facing education and with processes underway to examine the delivery of education, surely the time for radical change is NOW.
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Speech by Hilary Copeland, NI Integrated Education Alumni Association – IEF House of Lords dinner, Monday 2 November 2015