Lesson in sharing to be learnt

Jo-Anne Dobson
Jo-Anne Dobson

Sharing is a concept which children learn at a very early age; however, one which the Department of Education and the Minister John O’Dowd have yet to truly understand.

Sharing between all types of schools within our education system has the power to deliver better educational outcomes for all our children, as well as improved community relations.

However, the Minister is failing to advance shared education which is supposed to be at the very heart of the Programme for Government.

Since I was elected to Stormont as an MLA for Upper Bann in 2011 I have been working hard, alongside pupils, parents and the local community, to defend the popular Dickson Plan system in Craigavon and Tandragee.

It is crystal clear to me that, by their attitudes, the Department and the Southern Education and Library Board have pitched grammar against secondary, primary against primary.

The SELB’s contentious Option A – the amalgamation of secondary and grammar schools in Portadown and Lurgan- sent ripples of anger throughout the local community. This has led to soured relations between schools, principals and governors, as well as enraging many in the local community.

Finally, the SELB have been forced to listen to our loud voices and last week removed Option A from the table. They have now announced a move to involve everyone in discussions about the best way forward – something which I and my party colleagues called for at a recent meeting with the SELB chief executive and chairman.

The current Area Planning process is not fit for purpose.

Indeed, it is running contrary to the whole concept of encouraging greater sharing between schools. In my constituency, Area Planning has been segregated planning- the Catholic maintained and the state-controlled sectors have been looked at in complete isolation.

Sharing facilities and classes to deliver the curriculum between neighbouring schools of all types is the way to go - not forced amalgamations which do not work.

There are enough reports on the merits of shared education to fully wallpaper every primary and post primary school in Northern Ireland.

Just like my well-known views on changing the law on organ donation, we do not need any more reports to tell us what we already know to be fact!

One such report issued by the Ministerial Advisory Group, published in April 2013, was a totally missed opportunity to advance the issue of shared education, and we don’t need any more missed opportunities!

That is why I and my party colleague, Danny Kinahan MLA, the vice chair of the education committee, have tabled a motion at the Assembly calling on the Minister to finally begin to take practical steps to promote and facilitate sharing amongst our schools.

Children know the benefits of sharing. Our message is that John O’Dowd and his Department should begin to practice what they teach.