Why education always needs to be centre stage

It is the season for Northern Ireland’s political parties to hold their conferences. These are events where parties can highlight their vision and plans designed to take Northern Ireland forward towards a secure future.

It was encouraging that at the UUP conference in Belfast, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt shone the conference spotlight on the party’s plans for education.

Mr Nesbitt said the Ulster Unionists would strive to bring in a single education system in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist leader also called for a new covenant with the people of Northern Ireland.

“A covenant that recognises that we can do better for all our people by shaping a fairer education system, a stronger economy, better housing and a health service not only free at the point of delivery but with delivery points that are accessible and appropriate to the needs of our people,” he said.

Back in February, results from a LucidTalk poll, commissioned by the IEF again indicated the public support for change to our education system to benefit all our children.

Results for that poll suggested that 79% of parents interviewed said they would back a move to transform their child’s school to integrated, while 66% of all people questioned believe integrated schools should be the main model of our education system. More than two-thirds said an integrated school best prepares children for living and working in a diverse society.

Commenting on the results in February, Tina Merron, Chief Executive of the IEF, said: “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.

“It seems that the Minister of Education, the Executive and the advisors are wary 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.”

At the beginning of the conference season, can we look forward to all the parties debating the pressing issues that dominate our education system? Will we be able to take away from them that we, as a society, are beginning to become more joined up in our thinking and aspirations? Will that journey lead to the ultimate goal of a truly excellent education system built on a foundation of all our children learning together, and about each other, every day?

Read the Lucidtalk opinion poll results from February 2013