Abandoning diversity in education?

Roy Hattersley has been over to Northern Ireland specifically to look at the integrated school system. Most of it is focused on Rowallane College in Saintfield, which was recently declined funding by the Department of Education, and is (in the style of the orginal Shaws Road Buncoil), going it alone, in what the parent’s call, an ‘act of faith’. It currently subsists on a small grant from the Integrated Education Fund. Simon at Liberal England laid out three reasons, why he believes the Department’s decision was flawed:Simon at Liberal England laid out three reasons, why he believes the Department’s decision was flawed:

First, if you give the state a monopoly over innovation in education, you are likely to end up with a sclerotic system. Fortunately, in this case the Integrated Education Fund stepped in to provide funding: £500,000 for Rowallane and £250,000 for Clogher Valley.

Second, we tend to distrust independent initiatives in education. But here is a clear case where what is proposed is more Liberal and more enlightened than the state-backed alternative.

Third, the policy of not allowing new school in areas where there is surplus capacity is ludicrous. Surplus capacity will tend to exist in areas where the schools are bad, because parents there are more likely to pay to send their children to independent schools or to make more effort to work the state system to get them into schools further away.

Hattersley, from a very different angle, makes some interesting points too:

John Hagan, the chairman of governors at Rowallane Integrated College, which opened this term, describes the hope exactly: “I want my boys to grow up respecting other people’s differences and backgrounds.”

There are thousands of other Northern Ireland parents who feel the same. A 2003 survey reported that 81% of the Northern Ireland population believed that integrated education was “important to peace and reconciliation”. Significantly, 52% said that they did not send their children to an integrated school because there was not one in their area.

The demand for integrated education is being frustrated less by prejudice than by inertia. Headteachers and governors in the state sector are reluctant to take the trouble that attracting a balanced intake requires. Integrated schools will only become a major force in Northern Ireland when the government makes them an object of policy. Setting up new integrated schools in temporary premises is heroic, but will not change the face of the province’s sectarian education system.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty