Will SDLP support for integrated education create a new consensus?

David McCann has already given his overview of the SDLP manifesto. On delivery, as is usual with these documents, the manifesto strains at being comprehensive without giving away too many hostages to fortune or burdening the reader with costings. And like all parties particularly the smaller ones, the SDLP can indulge in aspirations it knows it won’t be allowed to deliver – and may not always want to anyway.

Aiming for (I make it)  26,500 new jobs by 2021, it lacks the confident sounding punch of the DUP’s headline “ promises “ to deliver 50,000 more jobs  and the aim of lowering corporation tax eventually to 10%. (Dream on guys). All such estimates are pretty much back of the envelope stuff anyway.

Yet striking a theme of “ progressive nationalism, “  the SDLP makes at pretty fair stab at modernising  the image of nationalism and  differentiating from Sinn Fein. They are unambiguous about ending paramilitarism.

Decisively and unambiguously, paramilitary activity must be faced down. There must be a whole hearted political approach to ending paramilitarism and associated criminality.

It will be intriguing to see if tyro leader Colum Eastwood will present this as  the challenge to Martin McGuinness standing in his native Derry in what is surely a bid to speed up the pace of the SDLP’s decline for his last hurrah.

Less contentiously the SDLP are bidding to harmonise economic planning with the Republic and a set a stable “ framework “ for finance and welfare that would last for 30 years – and continuing into Unity if that happened during the period.  To plan it all the SDLP would promote a Commission for a new Ireland, recalling the Forum for a new Ireland of the early 1980s championed by John Hume.

Like Sinn Fein the SDLP want northerners to have a vote in the Seanad  and presidential elections. While they want more local devolution (City Deals) and a shift of resources westwards , I wonder why they’ve baulked at specifically recommending more power for the new councils.

The aim of lowering student costs further while increasing third level spending  is a bit of populism, like higher nursery support. On the other hand the SDLP is surprisingly forthright about promoting  a version of integrated education.

The SDLP will actively build and promote the development of integrated education in Northern Ireland so that it becomes the educational format of choice for an increasing number of parents and children. Our plans to develop integrated education will still operate in a context where parental choice remains paramount. In addition we are not confined to the current model of integration – there is scope to develop integrated education which builds upon the faith element of schools. For example there is no reason why a Catholic school cannot become an integrated school. The SDLP’s view is that the current DUP/Sinn Fein ‘Shared’ education campuses initiative does not go far enough. Their model, which brings Catholic and Protestant schools closer together to share some facilities, actually maintains and institutionalises segregation. The SDLP model for integration means all children wearing the same uniform being taught by the same teachers in the same classroom.

Some circles have to be squared here.  Where will school management reside? What does the CCMS think?

Mike Nesbitt’s release of a policy document on integrated education in advance of the Ulster Unionist manifesto may be an interesting  straw in the wind.

On the concept of shared education, the paper said the UUP was supportive “only on the basis that it is part of a road map to a more unified, less religiously segregated school system in Northern Ireland. It must be a process, not an end in itself”.

Might the two parties cooperate in the new Assembly with Alliance in tow, and create effective pressure on the DUP and Sinn Fein  to increase the role of integrated education? With Arlene Foster suggesting that the DUP might bid for the enhanced Education department, the challenge to make  major change mounts.

It also raises the question of, if not the DUP for Finance, who? A complementary duo of the DUP in Finance and SF in Economy that would have tested Executive cohesion before the public looks unlikely. The TV debate showed that the  parties should be pressed harder on the portfolios  they’d bid for in the few weeks of the campaign.

 

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  • Kevin Breslin

    My objections don’t matter and probably neither do yours.

    My suggestions are merely things that might achieve something in the real world. I think if you don’t take on the views of the people of the area as much as would your own it does boil back down to dealing with the people up in West Belfast.

    8 MLAs, naively assuming the full support of his party were 40-45 MLAs short of having any of these policies passed, he could have been more tactful.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Kev

    What was this Glasgow example that you refer to?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Why not?

    Flog stranmillis for housing and then give the profit to Magee in Derry to help with its expansion.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think that it is one of several options to show that single teacher training isn’t something that produces austerity.

    Does anyone really believe that if loyalist paramilitaries just bombed St Mary’s one day, Stephen Farry’s proposals for a combined teacher training facility would go much smoother?

    Combined teacher training requires a whole body of political work, not a whole body of lectures and sermons.

    I think it is better to win over hearts and minds on the ground, than impose ideas you believe are ideologically perfect. Simon Hamilton criticised the minister for his lack of dialogue with stakeholders calling his actions “Un-Alliance like”.

    To be honest I don’t know what the Glasgow or Dublin plans were, but they were practical and political examples of taking areas where the Catholic maintained sector agrees to a single teacher training campus.

    If the public isn’t on his side and the Assembly isn’t on his side and both teacher training facilities are not on his side, brow-beating other parties for not backing his decisions is just sour grapes.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “I think that it is one of several options to show that single teacher training isn’t something that produces austerity.”

    What’s ‘it’?

    “Does anyone really believe that if loyalist paramilitaries just bombed St Mary’s one day, Stephen Farry’s proposals for a combined teacher training facility would go much smoother?

    Probably not, the potential for political mud slinging and hysteria in that event would smother any plans, no matter how sensible.

    “Combined teacher training requires a whole body of political work, not a whole body of lectures and sermons.”

    I just read up a bit on the Glasgow mergers, there didn’t seem to be much political involvement at all other than capping the number of student teachers i.e. the complete opposite of O’Dowd’s expensive idea of spending tens of millions of pounds to ensure that we don’t have to.

    “I think it is better to win over hearts and minds on the ground, than impose ideas you believe are ideologically perfect. Simon Hamilton criticised the minister for his lack of dialogue with stakeholders calling his actions “Un-Alliance like”. ”

    Ideally yes, but when you’re dealing with the Northern Irish public and their political representatives you’re then dealing with a group of high grade twisters who are impermeable to reason and are satisfied with their expensive and divisive set-up.

    So if a good, solid, fiscally sound idea is being kicked down the road because people don’t want to sit beside huns in class then it’s perhaps time to go over said heads.

    “To be honest I don’t know what the Glasgow or Dublin plans were, but they were practical and political examples of taking areas where the Catholic maintained sector agrees to a single teacher training campus.

    The Glasgow example was a sensible example of what to do when you’re producing too many teachers and political involvement was seemingly kept to a minimum.

    “If the public isn’t on his side and the Assembly isn’t on his side and both teacher training facilities are not on his side, brow-beating other parties for not backing his decisions is just sour grapes.”
    Why do the public need to be on his side?
    In Glasgow they seemingly didn’t give a ha’penny bit (and I was at university in Glasgow at the time and in later years was overly familiar with some graduates from the college and never recalled it being a big deal for them or the public in general unlike other college mergers which saw student demonstrations).
    The public only cares in NI as politicians have used it as yet another football to boot about the place.
    If there was any common sense about the place we’d put a cap on teacher graduate places, merge the two colleges, flog one of the campuses to developers (for as much money as possible) and use the profit to tart up the remaining campus and whatever’s left over could go to the Magee campus.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I thought unionism in general was quite against integrated education?

    Although this is anecdotal I was told by a parent of children who attend the integrated school in Portrush that the local unionist politicians won’t even hear of a discussion regarding its proposed expansion.

  • Kevin Breslin

    What I’m getting from this speech is the feeling the attitude that our democracy would work so much better if we had a different public. No one is telling you to stay here. The mentality you make is quite similar to one made by dissident republicans it’s effectively “we have a mandate, the politicans don’t”.

    One of Farry’s big problem is that his proposals have a democratic deficit, SNP in Glasgow did not, they got the votes they needed from Glasgow and they did that engagement stuff before the elections. Alliance’s West Belfast candidate was in America last month, they’ve next to no desires to build any constituency profile in the area.

    Glasgow proposals worked because the legislators took the time to engage with the public and the educationalists on the reforms they wanted to pass. Farry didn’t even have as much as a public consultation, which is probably the bare minimum.

    You talk about Catholics not wanting to have their children sitting next to Protestants. Isn’t there a problem that this is very much similar to Alliance’s attitude to West Belfast? They’re poorer, less educated, bigoted … all that sort of snobbery.

    If Alliance want to move the policies they want they need either a bigger mandate, consensus within Stormont and to facilitate public demand. They need to drop the undemocratic attitude and deal with the people that are living here if they want to move anything forward at all, not just forward faster.

    Dominic Bradley didn’t get the Autism Bill passed by brow-beating opposition from the UUP, nor does that mean that the UUP were opposed to very concept of Autistic people having improved rights provision. There was a polite debate on how to actually achieve this. This was just one member building a consensus to get their PMB passed.

    There were 100 other MLAs that didn’t have an Alliance mandate and I don’t know a single one who backs what Stephen Farry’s proposals, and I include liberals like Agnew, McCrea, Sugden and McCallister on that list. I can’t even vouch for his own party’s MLAs.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    The attitude you should be getting from this speech is one of logic and administrative efficiency i.e. we have too many teachers, so many that in order to accommodate them the education minister has had to come up with a cunning plan costing tens of millions of pounds.

    Sometimes ministers have to make unpopular decisions and a decision like merging teacher training colleges would barely make the news in other regions yet here it becomes a question of ‘democratic deficit’.

    “Glasgow proposals worked because the legislators took the time to engage with the public and the educationalists on the reforms they wanted to pass.”

    Here’s part of the ‘consultation process’ a large pdf that points to merging two campus’s due and flogging the assets of one of them.

    https://mars.northlanarkshire.gov.uk/egenda/images/att42604.pdf

    Now, if Farry put together a PDF and sent it to Belfast City Council would that be satisfactory?

    “One of Farry’s big problem is that his proposals have a democratic deficit, SNP in Glasgow did not, they got the votes they needed from Glasgow and they did that engagement stuff before the elections”

    None of the stuff I’ve read regarding the merger has even mentioned the SNP, could you please link some relevant site that shows the hand the SNP played in merging the two colleges?

    “You talk about Catholics not wanting to have their children sitting next to Protestants. Isn’t there a problem that this is very much similar to Alliance’s attitude to West Belfast? They’re poorer, less educated, bigoted … all that sort of snobbery.”

    Let’s say for sake of argument “yes”. Does that mean that people do or do not want their children sitting next to Protestants? Or does it have no relevance to that statement whatsoever?

    “If Alliance want to move the policies they want they need either a bigger mandate, consensus within Stormont and to facilitate public demand. They need to drop the undemocratic attitude and deal with the people that are living here if they want to move anything forward at all, not just forward faster.”

    If they need a bigger mandate then why bother giving them the department at all? “Here you go, here’s a department for you but we’ll ensure that you can’t do squat”


    Dominic Bradley didn’t get the Autism Bill passed by brow-beating opposition from the UUP, nor does that mean that the UUP were opposed to very concept of Autistic people having improved rights provision. There was a polite debate on how to actually achieve this. This was just one member building a consensus to get their PMB passed.

    There were 100 other MLAs that didn’t have an Alliance mandate and I don’t know a single one who backs what Stephen Farry’s proposals, and I include liberals like Agnew, McCrea, Sugden and McCallister on that list. I can’t even vouch for his own party’s MLAs.

    All that says to me is that Farry went about it in the wrong way which is a different kettle of fish from your original points regarding the merger of the colleges e.g. “How much integration is guaranteed if the only teaching school is confined to Stranmillis?” and “Divesting in West Belfast and indeed North Belfast doesn’t lead to greater integration, certainly not automatically and certainly history says it does the opposite.” and “We need to separate the problem of division from the problem of economic deprevation, otherwise avoiding public spending in segregated areas with deprevation gets spun as promoting integration.”.

    IF Mr Farry went about it the ‘right’ way and for example proposed the merger of the colleges and the selling of Stranmillis would you still oppose it?

  • Kevin Breslin

    It is completely illogical and completely inefficient to try and pass legislation without democratic support inside and outside the chamber. People pay their legislators to make these decisions.
    St Mary’s is very low down the list of things that Stormont actually spends money upon in reality in terms of how much money actually gets spent. Half their costs are already covered by fee paying students.
    Farry has failed to logically get democratic support for his policies among the 100 non-Alliance MLAs … we don’t have an Alliance Party government at the end of the day, and he has no other choice but to build a consensus.
    I don’t think he even tried to get one, never mind failed in his attempts to do so.
    I don’t like the fact that the UK government wastes billions of pounds on Trident, something I consider not just to be pointless but absolutely psychotic to have, but I don’t have the mandate to stop them.
    I say this as one of the few people in this forum actually qualified to work in one of their specialist jobs.
    The only reason why Trident exists is fundamentalism, and it’s a HUGE waste of money with massive inflationary costs, for something which is just there to satisfy the fundamentalism of the British political classes.

    But there’s no point blaming the Tories and Labour and all their supporters as a whole for all that, is there?

  • barnshee

    “This suggests that the motivation is not integration but an effort to dilute the Irishness of a rapidly growing Catholic population alongside a rapidly falling Protestant population. Integration needs to be led top down.”
    Pass out the Pill asap save the NI part of the planet

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    So Kev, is it fair to say that you’re more opposed to Farry’s handling of the affair rather than the actual idea of merging the colleges?
    And given that you cite Glasgow as an example would you then by extension support Glasgow’s capping of teachers which would in our case make redundant O’Dowd’s plans to throw tens of millions of pounds at some temporary re-dressal as well as the long terms savings brought by merging the colleges (and by possibly flogging Stranmillis to Developers) and forwarding these savings to Magee?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well that is reasonably fair, I don’t think his strategy was workable and probably it was closer to a stunt.

    The thread talks about the SDLP helping building a consensus, it’s very clear there is not a consensus on this matter and to get one requires a more holistic approach taken by everybody and yes that does include the fiscal matters too.

  • Abucs

    Some people have the myth of the enlightenment and the fantasy of secular humanist history. This myth encourages them to believe they are enlightened, that they know better than other people and should be able to dictate their godlessness to other people’s kids.

    https://whatswrongwithatheism.wordpress.com/atheism-and-delusion-thought-think-about-it/

  • Croiteir

    I don’t really see the need for Stranmillis to go either to be honest

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    What if it saved money and paved the way for the Magee campus expansion?

  • Sharpie

    This conversation is good. Hard to follow, but good. It is too complicated though. People who are tied to a position are just defending them and not persuading anyone else. As the thread develops people become even more stringent.

    It’s too easy to try to simplify this. There is no black and white. Everyone believes they have children’s best interests at heart and believe themselves to be the ones with the truth. People are passionate. Nice place to start.

    The need to integrate society is paramount. Education is one of the necessary methods. Over time the conversation about religious integration is lessening because society is by itself becoming more secular. This will speed up. I think many schools are grasping this and many many schools are integrating by default.

    The debate is not secular v’s religious, it is identity. It is still the issue that it is our national, tribal identities that cause the problem, not religion. The politicians see this and wrap up the conversations in supporting concepts – like jobs.

    The danger, rightly picked up by some commentators is that the political attack or sub context is putting restraint on the runaway success of nationalists who are being educated to a higher standard in their schools. There are more of them and better educated. In a couple of years they will be able to dictate terms and set the agenda because they will have the numbers on their side. Anything before that is a holding position, steady as she goes, and nothing too drastic.

    This makes for a happier more confident Nationalist middle class but the opposite on the Unionist side.

    The idea of integrating identity (or at least an active and generous tolerance) is essential in Northern Ireland and it requires big leaps of trust and faith. More and more people are up for it and when they do, they find out that there wasn’t much at stake for them as individuals. When the situation is pulled out to panorama view, the risks are greater for a community’s identity.

    Politicians aren’t stupid – they act out of self interest, they see this reality and are not yet able to countenance losing people from their own side to a new middle where class, employment, well being and standard of living become predominant rather than national identity being the overarching driver that makes them feel ok about suffering deprivation of quality of life for the sake of the cause. If life could be better it should be and it is incumbent on us or anyone with a voice to remind leaders that they are depriving us of a better life because of the fixation on a fallacy that segregated identities is paramount.

    It would be my preference that student teachers could be educated in one institution – and I don’t care a jot where it is. Why not in my constituency because mine is as deserving as any other to have economic investment.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Two straightforward questions for the SDLP.

    1. Will they now admit they were wrong to oppose the reform and integration of teacher training?

    2. Will they now join the campaign to remove the teaching exemption from Fair Employment Law?

    Without a straight “yes” to both of these, they are simply putting words in a manifesto for the sake of sounding good with no actual intention of taking on the vested interests in the way required to deliver.

  • Croiteir

    Sounds a bit of an ultimatum to me. Must we sacrifice Stranmilis for Magee?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I would view it as common sense and efficiency rather than an ultimatum.

    We have too many teachers, a plan to spend tens of millions to accommodate this surplus and Magee needs funds for its expansion plans.

    Numerous birds with one stone.

    Kevin just highlighted that they did something similar in Glasgow without too much fuss so there is a precedent.

  • Croiteir

    I also do not accept the argument that we have too many teachers therefore we should cut training of teachers.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Why do you not accept it?

  • Croiteir

    I do not accept that view of education. The soulless view that education only serves a purpose. The purpose being leafing to a job. Or even worse. A career. I believe that education is more than that. It helps create the person. Helps make them better. And in doing do creates a better world. I do not accept we should be educating people to serve the local job market. And I do not accept that most people think that either. We should educate or children to fulfill themselves.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Nice sentiments but it means there are not enough places for teaching graduates and with the amount of money that costs us (and WILL cost us if O’Dowd has his way) something needs to be done

    Your philosophy may be more noble than my calculator & books based philosophy but i’m approaching this from an administrative point of view and can’t afford the luxury of your view.

  • Croiteir

    Can we afford to have too many aeronautic engineers? too many archeologists, too many anything, should the universities be tied to providing for the local market? I do not accept that. The local market will never be able to absorb the amount of students we feed through, unless of course if you want to have the local civil service a non degree free zone.
    The student should be the priority first and then finance, (not suggesting finance is not an issue.
    However, being mischievous, I suggest you may well be on to something.
    How about this scenario.
    We only provide courses and places that can be matched to the regional economy. All other course and places be closed.
    That should enable us to get rid of a lot of property. In fact I would say the perhaps Queens could go. Send everyone to Magee – which would be with perhaps a bit of expansion, able to hold the students and in one fell swoop we could sell of all the property in University of Ulster, Queens and the likes of outliers such as St Mary’s and Stranmilis.
    Save a packet that would.

  • Croiteir

    Girdwood was the answer to the pressures, no wait, hold on.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    The government don’t employ too many aeronautical engineers or archaeologists (when compared to teachers).
    Teaching in Northern Ireland is overwhelmingly in the public sector which the government pays for.
    To accommodate the number of graduates churned out by the system it is the government that is proposing throwing tens of millions of pounds at the problem.
    The scenario that you propose is at the extreme end of this money-saving spectrum.
    At the other extreme end would be the scenario where we have more colleges than necessary (at government expense) churning out an excess of graduates only qualified to work for the government (at the government’s expense) and creating work for these graduates by splashing out yet more money (at the government’s expense).
    The thing is, this extreme end of the scenario is also the current reality.
    So rather than going for either extreme I feel a middle ground could be achieved, just like it was in Glasgow.

  • Shirley McMillan

    What is it about the ‘current model’ of Integrated Education that the SDLP disagree with?

    http://www.nicie.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Statement-of-Principles1.pdf