Integrated Education: A lot of progress has been made since 1998, yet there is a long way to go…

Peter Osborne, Chair of the Integrated Education Fund and a former chair of the Community Relations Council and Parades Commission, reflects on the latest LucidTalk poll on attitudes to Integrated Education.

Older people, like me, look to the past because it will inform the future while younger people look to the future because they have little memory of the past. The LucidTalk poll on Integrated Education speaks to the future.

Never mind that two thirds and more of people in Northern Ireland consistently support Integrated Education as their preferred model for education, here are three further key take-aways from the poll.

First of all support for Integrated Education is strongest amongst the younger generation. Of all Under 35-year-olds 73% believe that integrated education should be the main model of education. Of course, never mind that these are attitudes of the younger generation, post-1998 Agreement; this is also the age group from which most parents are drawn.

People want integrated education yet because of the area planning model, few parents have reasonable access to it.

Secondly, 78% of people believe that all teachers should be trained together in the one institution. Protestant and Catholic adults are trained to teach the same curriculum but mostly are trained in separate teacher training institutions – and a region of this size really should only have one given the numbers involved. Here is a clear case of duplication; and the extra money that duplication costs is sorely needed on the front-line of teaching.

Thirdly, 61% believe the Department of Education should take a pro-active approach to encourage rural schools to amalgamate especially where there is a threat of closure to a school. Schools in rural villages are so important to the community and half the people in a village shouldn’t be left without a school almost by default.

The last 25 years have been rightly celebrated in recent weeks given the seminal moment the Good Friday Agreement represented. What drops slowly is easy to miss and under-value. A lot of progress has been made since 1998. This place is almost unrecognisable.

Yet there is a long way to go, and the next 25 years should be defined by a real, concerted effort to shatter the segregation that still plagues this society. Yes, it requires progress on segregated housing and a removal of peace barriers as well as ending segregation in education, but these all need to run concurrently or not at all.

We need to think about whether what we are leaving to our children and their children is for the good of their future. Their parents – 73% of them – have already made up their mind. They want children and young people (and student teachers) educated together daily in the same classroom.

That is parental choice, if only they had access to it.

Peter Osborne can be followed on Twitter @OsborneTweets.


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