If you thought things were changing since the peace process began in the education system, then think again. Kathryn Torney compares the aspiration of the First Minister, with the record of all devolved administrations:
When Peter Robinson described Northern Ireland’s segregated education system as “a benign form of apartheid” in a speech in October 2010, it was a remark that had the potential to be a major turning point for integrated schooling in Northern Ireland.
The DUP leader said: “If one were to suggest that Protestants and Catholics would be educated at separate universities it would be manifestly absurd; yet we continue to tolerate the idea that at primary and secondary level our children are educated separately.
The problem with such statements is that they just wishfully defy anything approaching reality. As Torney notes we still live in a disintegrated society (I really recommend playing around with The Detail’s interactive map. Just try finding a school in Belfast where the minority figure is more than ten pupils):
In July 2012, secretary of state Owen Paterson said that over 90 per cent of public housing in Northern Ireland was segregated. This means thousands of children are continuing to both live and learn with only others of the same religious background.
Prof Tony Gallagher is pro-vice chancellor at Queen’s University Belfast and former head of the university’s school of education. He said: “These new figures suggest that our schools remain strongly differentiated on the basis of religion, with only limited evidence of any change between 1997/8 and 2011/2.
“There has been a significant increase in the number of pupils in integrated schools over that period but the overall proportion in that sector remains low. It is likely most young people will continue to be educated in schools where the majority of their peers are from the same religious community.”
But here’s the interesting thing. Which schools are going integrated fastest? The large voluntary Grammars. Belfast Royal Academy has a healthy and substantial population of Catholic students:
Total pupil enrolment: 1421
Number of Protestant pupils: 800
Number of Catholic pupils: 358
Number of ‘other’ pupils: 263
As does Methody:
Total pupil enrolment: 1783
Number of Protestant pupils: 840
Number of Catholic pupils: 376
Number of ‘other’ pupils: 567
The ninety per cent figure applies to public housing, and those are the areas where people have less socio economic choices. It’s also where, the education failure of the Northern Irish system is most in evidence.
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