Editorial: Integrated and shared schooling in Northern Ireland is not the same thing
There was a little commented-on event during the Belfast Agreement 25th anniversary celebrations. The former first lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton, visited an example of shared education in Northern Ireland, when she travelled to Limavady. This was notable because when major politicians have come to the province they have often given support to integrated education: such as when David Cameron and Barack Obama visited an integrated school in Co Fermanagh.
What then is the difference? Well, that is not entirely clear. Shared education means different things to different people in different contexts. In some situations, it is a sensible attempt to share resources amid a divided education system.
But there is no doubt that for some voices in the education debate, shared education is in fact an attempt to thwart integrated education by keeping a segregated system. Republicans, for example, seem quite keen on shared education. Might this be that they have done well by an system in which Catholic schools have been maintained and so there has been a slower move towards integrated schooling on the nationalist side of the community, thus helping the tribal divide? After all, some supposedly ‘Protestant’ schools in the Greater Belfast area are in fact schools with a Protestant heritage but which have long since ceased to be in any way Protestant, and have a significantly mixed religious intake. In other words, in the same way that church attendance fell earlier in Protestant communities than Catholic ones, there is a case to be made that Protestant schooling is falling away faster.
The think tank Pivotal has found overwhelming support among young people for both integrated and shared schooling in NI. This is welcome. But is anyone discussing the difference between the two?