The survey that we report today has found overwhelming support among the Northern Ireland public for a single education system.
Such a system would be closer to an integrated one.
And yet truly integrated education makes up a small fraction of the schooling in the Province.
Some schools are in effect religiously integrated, such as the Belfast grammar schools Methodist College and Belfast Royal Academy, but very few Northern Ireland schools have a roughly equal number of pupils from the two main communities, or meet official criteria for integrated status.
There is no real political will to do much about this, partly because the two big parties are Sinn Fein and the DUP. It is the nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, who are most lukewarm about integrated education in practice, even though they speak positively about parents having the option to educate their children to that sector. But the DUP seems less actively supportive of integrated schooling than its warm tone suggests. The party in its statement to the News Letter today talks about people wishing to see more “sharing in education” and the investments to boost “shared education”.
But the concept shared education is open to various interpretations, some of which are in fact opposed to an integrated system. Some groups – most notably Sinn Fein – have used it to maintain a tribal divide and to attack grammar schools.
The Ulster Unionist Party seems to be the most positive of the big five parties about integrated education after Alliance.
There are parents who want their children to be educated by their church and this is of course a legitimate aspiration. But even the English school system, while overwhelmingly secular, manages to cater to that desire.
The main problem with the current system in NI is that it is not geared towards the formally neutral provision of education that so many parents seem to want.