Integrated education: Where do NI parties stand?

The News Letter has carried news of a fresh poll indicating the public's preference for a single, unified education system for children of all backgrounds.

The poll was commissioned by the Integrated Education Fund, and the five main parties were asked for their take on integrated education – which essentially involves aiming to educate a certain proportion of Catholics alongside a certain proportion of Protestants.

Here are their responses – with unionists striking a more positive-sounding note than nationalists.

DUP: Public want more sharing among schools

The results of this survey are highly significant.

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Across every part of Northern Ireland a majority of people wish to see greater sharing within our education.

This will not happen overnight.

But a great deal of progress has already been made and the Executive is making significant investments to boost shared education right across Northern Ireland.

This investment is not only positive in terms of delivering an education system which the public want to see, but it will also deliver longer-term savings to the public finances.

It has been a number of years since this debate was first initiated by the DUP but we are already starting to see real progress towards a vision which is clearly supported by the public.

UUP: Single system will not happen overnight

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The UUP believes the current model of education in NI is unsustainable.

It is unhealthy that almost half of our school-age children attend schools where 95 per cent of the pupils are from the same community or religious background.

The UUP wants to deliver a single state education system where children of all faiths and none are educated together. This would fulfil the vision of the first and last UUP education ministers – Lord Londonderry in 1921 and Basil McIvor in 1974.

We recognise that a single system will not be achieved overnight and we must ensure that any change enjoys public confidence and parental support.

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With regard to shared education, we have always been supportive of it, but only if it is part of a road map to a more unified, less religiously segregated school system in Northern Ireland. It must be a process, not an end in itself.

Alliance: Pupils respect one another’s cultures

Support for integrated education is clearly growing across Northern Ireland and we need more schools providing such a system.

The education minister needs to invest further in the integrated school estate to ensure the increasing numbers of parents who want their children to attend integrated schools are able to do so.

It is vital we give our children the best education possible – more integrated schools would help achieve that.

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Children who experience integration at a young age have a confidence in themselves and a respect for each other’s culture.

Integrated education should be actively encouraged in our society, not merely facilitated.

A society which promotes such a system is one which will be free from many of the problems which have held us back for too long.

SDLP: Integrated is fine, but it is all up to parents

The SDLP believe that the integrated sector is playing a valuable role in the promotion of shared education in Northern Ireland.

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Integrated education has a significant and positive social influence in fostering cross-community friendships, reducing prejudicial attitudes and promoting a sense of equity in religious, racial or ethnically diverse environments.

It remains the case that the vast majority of children and young people in primary and post-primary schools (92 per cent) attend schools that are predominantly from one denomination.

The SDLP believe that parents who wish to send their child to an integrated school should be facilitated by the department as should parents who wish to send their child to a denominational school.

We recognise the benefits of integrated education as a bespoke model of shared education in Northern Ireland.

SF: We back choice of Catholic and controlled

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Sinn Fein support parental preference – whether it be in the integrated, Catholic maintained, the controlled or Irish medium sectors.

It is important that schools provide an environment where children from different religious and socio-economic backgrounds can come together to learn from each other’s experiences.

Sinn Fein have shown our active support for integrated schools under several Sinn Fein education ministers.

Where demand for an integrated school is established we will continue to support the provision of integrated schools.

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Sinn Fein also brought forward the Shared Education Bill to help promote understanding between children from different backgrounds and help foster better community relations. The bill is based on respect and tolerance and is a step forward in creating an education system fit for all in society.