Only structural change will deliver better education

Maddy Bridgman who is the Public Affairs Officer for the Integrated Education Fund writes for Slugger about the Alternative Manifesto published today by the IEF

The Integrated Education Fund (IEF) has published its Alternative Manifesto for education based on the premise that we need to change our education system. Recent research (commissioned by the IEF from independent polling company LucidTalk) found parents reporting that some schools cannot afford to employ enough staff, and many buildings are decrepit. We have many high achievers in NI who deserve to be celebrated, but educational outcomes are not good enough for a significant number of pupils. We are artificially propping up a duplicated, expensive model which features thousands of empty desks. And somehow we think it’s ok to effectively segregate young people on the basis of the tradition or religion into which they were born.

Public servants acknowledge the budgetary landscape is bleak and, further, that radical, structural change is needed to mitigate this.

The recent budget briefing, issued by the Department of Finance, said:

“Doing more of the same will get the same results as now at increasing cost….Transformation could result in better outcomes for pupils and for our economy…”,

And the Northern Ireland’ Children’s Commissioner in her report on the Cost of Education concluded:

The Northern Ireland Executive must ensure an end to the duplication of spend on the administration of the various education sectors in Northern Ireland. The focus of the provision of education within restricted budgets must be on ensuring that all children receive an education in line with Article 29(1) of the NCRC and fulfil their maximum potential.

We are confident, through our own research and our engagement with communities, that many more people recognise the need for change – and many share our vision for an education system which meets the 21 century needs of every young person.

The LucidTalk poll found that there is strong support for structural change to the NI education system, with equally strong support for increased integration. A Sky News poll published just last week revealed 69% of people in NI were in favour of integrated education.

We are also confident that our vision for education helps meet the declared aims of politicians and policy-makers. The draft Programme for Government aspires to a flourishing, diverse but united community. The role that our education system can play must not be dismissed. To achieve our common vision, we need meaningful reform of the way education is planned, managed and delivered. We need collaborative, strategic thinking to make this come true. We have seen too many projects, tweaks and minor adjustments which do not impact on the core character of an archaic, segregated system of schools.

In producing our Alternative Manifesto for education the IEF seeks to show how positive change is attainable. Whilst we call for a commitment to increase the number of pupils in integrated schools we also want to see all schools commit to actively welcoming a diverse pupil population. We also highlight the areas of policy which are currently holding NI back from moving the education system forward: making inclusivity an inspection issue; extending equality legislation to cover schools; reforming teacher-training; developing a single model for boards of governors across all schools in NI; establishing a single authority for the planning and administration of education; and the development of a co-ordinated, strategic approach between the Department for Education and the Department for Communities to bring people together through housing and schools.

These steps will take us to long-term transformation of the system and it’s time to begin discussions which could set us on our way. We do not expect overnight change but we have waited long enough.

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