Attempts to promote more shared education in Northern Ireland must tackle social as well as religious segregation, the Education Minister has insisted.
John O’Dowd was giving his official response to a report on shared education by a ministerial advisory group.
The report panel, which published its recommendations earlier this year, was criticised by some unionists after including a scathing assessment of academic selection among its findings.
The minister, who said the report would form an “integral part” of education policy in the future, said his vision of shared education meant removing all barriers.
“All the evidence” showed that academic selection favoured children from higher income families, he said.
“Some people have criticised the group for including those recommendations (on academic selection),” he said. “They are missing a very important point. Sharing means educating without barriers, and without segregation. The group’s advice is very clear. Selection discriminates. Selection divides.”
He added: “I look forward to the day when this Assembly decides to end academic selection for good. Until that day, I will strive to make it irrelevant, and to limit the damage that it does.”
Mervyn Storey, the DUP chairman of Stormont’s education committee, said in a statement that the minister seemed “content in bringing every discussion (around) to the issue of academic selection”, in the knowledge that the DUP will not support any move which would “weaken the position of those schools who use academic criteria as an admissions policy”.
He said: “Rather than set out a road map to deliver shared education, the minister has created a road block.”