10 Oct

Quality Not Quantity – The Future For Our Schools?

The current necessary budget cuts have led the Education Minister to demand a thorough look at the effectiveness, as well as the efficiency, of each school in Northern Ireland – though, surely, with the “Every School a Good School” policy in place, this should have been a paramount concern for several years?  Yet we recently heard a respected educationalist, Sir Robert Salisbury, tell us that there is no room for complacency about the academic service our schools provide.

The Minister, John O’Dowd, has pledged that he will not flinch from closing a school which is not performing well or which is deemed overall surplus to requirements.  Some say intervention should be tried first, though that could be seen as a luxury in an overcrowded public sector. But if we are to close a school, the alternatives for its pupils and wider community must be considerably, and palpably better.   No-one should be left feeling their new arrangement is a second choice, or a fallback position, of that they or their child has been forced to make a sacrifice for economic reasons.  The result must be an improvement in the learning and development experience for all involved.  I include in this the social health of the communities involved.

 We do not need a piecemeal shaving of expenses, but rather a radical change in our approach budgeting, thereby spending what we have to best effect.  Greater sharing and integration offers the chance to work economically but also to offer an enhanced experience in which children grow, learn and play together.   The crisis should be turned into the opportunity our young people have been waiting for.

The minister has acknowledged that he would countenance cross-sectoral mergers of schools, but he has left it to the sectoral management bodies to propose them on an individual basis.  So he has grasped the opportunity to scrutinise and improve standards, but not the chance to promote collaboration, integration and meaningful sharing.  This in the face of evidence that most parents, it seems, would welcome the opportunity for their children to mix with people of all backgrounds, as long as the education they are receiving is of a high standard.  We can only hope that the sectoral bodies recognise and reflect this, moving forward to offer a holistic restructuring of education.  We hear so much about parental choice but if every school becomes truly welcoming to and nurturing of every young person in its area, then the standard of education becomes the over-riding factor in choosing a school, not the name or the badge.  We have seen in integrated schools that is it possible to not only accommodate but also support and value  different backgrounds under one roof; the education experience becomes richer and more complex and stimulating.

Literacy, numeracy and exam results all count….but so does the ability of a school to grow confident, enquiring young people, ready for the increasing diverse world of adulthood which awaits them.

23 Sep

Children who attend special schools are the most segregated of all

Bernie Drayne, a disabled rights campaigner, discusses the One School Of Thought Campaign

It is incredible that this campaign (One School Of Thought) ignores the issue of disability. Disabled children are the most socially excluded of all groups here in Northern Ireland and those who are involved in formulating policy, working or campaigning with regard to disability – some of whom are signatories to the One School of Thought campaign – are well aware of this fact, yet ‘disability’ does not feature at all in this campaign. Do those who write policy not read their own words? (more…)

5 Sep

Education from all sides – a pupil’s perspective

by Erin Wilkinson

I am lucky enough to have experienced a strongly Protestant primary school and both an integrated primary school and post-primary. Through my first primary school we took part in the EMU project which linked classes from a Protestant school and Catholic school in the same area.

I can remember quite vividly that at one point a group of Catholics were surrounded in the play ground and hit with stones and food. Being young I didn’t know why my peers were doing this. During the EMU project we would meet our partnered school and go on various trips; whilst being under the watch of teachers we mixed together but when it came to the bus the two schools would separate to the back and front. (more…)

18 Aug

A Day At The Races

Busy, busy, busy – as the new term approaches, both in academic and assembly terms, the office at the Fund is working towards a fresh round of activities and campaigning.

The fundraising team is looking ahead first to the 9th September when the annual IEF Race Day is scheduled for Down Royal.   Gemma and Brian have been encouraging supporters to come along and have been occupied in sourcing all the elements needed to make it as successful and convivial as ever.  I’ve never worked in that field so I’m always struck by how many things need to be organised and booked and how much attention to detail is required. (more…)

8 Aug

Summer schemes, and the living is easy!

Most areas offer summer activities for youngsters; a godsend to bored children and busy parents. They are frequently area-based regarding local councils, open to all children whatever their background, whilst some go a step further and declare themselves to be actively furthering community relations through sport, drama or whatever.  (more…)

27 Jul

How Shared Education Can Be A Way Forward For Those Left Behind

By Baroness May Blood, as seen in the Belfast Telegraph, Monday 25th July 2011

The Troubles left many people in Northern Ireland with little to lose; and the peace process should have brought many gains. In most places it has done, but there is a hefty proportion of people who feel little material benefit from political progress and now, with the recession, they feel little hope for the future.

I can list some of the problems we now face: low academic achievement, especially among young Protestant males; discontent and in some cases anger and violence. It was so sad to see the eruption of rioting among young people who should be facing their adult years with hope and confidence. (more…)


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