Editorial: Northern Ireland needs a debate about the merits of shared education

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Morning View
​News Letter editorial on Wednesday March 13 2024

​There is an interesting side story to the comments about education funding for school projects yesterday.

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This is a huge project that could see thousands of pupils from six schools enjoying shared facilities. But its cost has soared to £300 million+, amidst delays, and an independent review into education last year concluded that it was "unaffordable".

Mr Givan told Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that he could not stand over the “magnitude” of what is needed from his own budget and he would bring it to the wider executive. He partly blamed the situation, as DUP and Sinn Fein ministers often do, on the UK government. But there is a wider debate about this topic that is rarely heard in NI. What is shared education, and what are the motivations behind it? There is no single answer to that question, but it is one that should nonetheless be debated.

Shared and integrated education are often talked about in the same breath, but they are not the same. In fact, some people back shared education in opposition to integrated. A party as tribal as Sinn Fein, for example, might be keen on shared education as a way of maintaining the divided system which, after all, will benefit them more than a single integrated one.

There is also a reluctance among supporters of integrated education to criticise the role of the Catholic Church in divided education. Why is that? Many schools that are in effect integrated are nominally Protestant schools in greater Belfast.

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These factors should be discussed openly. After all, if the Strule campus goes ahead then a ‘shared’ project will soak up a lot of money that could go to integrated. Yet everyone including Mr Givan seems to think it an important scheme.