Any need for ‘shared education’ would be negated by a single school system

The pupil scored well below the minimum entry level when he sat the AQE transfer test
The pupil scored well below the minimum entry level when he sat the AQE transfer test

Coming back to Northern Ireland to retire, after spending much of my career travelling abroad, has been quite an experience.

The place remains as beautiful as ever and has seen many improvements in a host of areas.

Roderick Downer, formerly of Colliers International in Dublin

Roderick Downer, formerly of Colliers International in Dublin

Our reputation for hospitality is spreading and so supporting a burgeoning tourism industry. Creative industries are flourishing.

The people, too, are generally less insular, more outward looking and of course more travelled.

There are however, many areas still in need of urgent attention – and education is the one that stands out. Frankly I find it hard to get my head around what is going on.

We have the selection test mess, the single education authority mess, the duplication of resources mess and the parental choice being ignored mess – to name but a few.

What is going to happen in the future and how can we best prepare our children for what is down the line?

Can we expect any clear vision from our political representatives at Stormont, or will they succumb to the temptation to leave everything in the hands of sectorally divided bodies, and maintain the status quo?

It seems ridiculous that there is a split in the education system between our two sectarian camps in this country.

The end result is a huge waste of money; resources are duplicated across schools with empty desks; administration is fragmented and cumbersome and children travel miles to a school of “their” type on subsidised buses. But much more importantly, we are still missing the major opportunity to break down the awful divisions in our people.

Remember, segregation begins at school.

The policy of promoting “shared education” where projects between schools bring inter-community contact for a limited amount of time, is meanwhile, simply an additional cost.

Surely any business leader would agree that this money could be spent better on improving and increasing facilities and resources in schools.

A system of common schools, open and welcoming to all, would negate the need for “sharing” and free up funds for educating.

Opinion polls on the issue have repeatedly shown, over many years, that most parents in Northern Ireland would wish their children to be educated in integrated schools.

In fact there is a duty on the Minister for Education to encourage and facilitate integrated education.

So why does that not seem to be happening? Politicians should be engaging with public opinion and moving forward with the electorate – not living in the past and only paying lip service to progress.

When candidates called at my door looking for my vote this May, I certainly had some questions for them. Almost every one of them expressed support for my thinking but of course, with the election out of the way, they’ve gone silent.

Do I have any real reason to hope that things will be any different from any other election year?

Why is it that their agenda, historically, seems to have left the education system in a mess?

• Roderick Downer grew up in Belfast and worked as a chartered surveyor and later as a director of a major property consultancy in Dublin. Roderick was a regional committee member of Colliers International EMEA