Signs of support for educating children together

Morning View
Morning View

The DUP has highlighted comments by Martin McGuinness about the education system.

Peter Weir, the MLA who chairs Stormont’s education committee, described the deputy first minister’s apparent support for a single education system as “quite a turnaround”.

The deputy first minister is reported to have said he would want an integrated education system if starting from scratch.

This is what the much-maligned unionist founders of Northern Ireland wanted, but they were defeated by Protestant and Catholic opposition, of which the latter church was perhaps the most powerful (which challenges the notion that Northern Ireland was an apartheid state in which Catholic wishes counted for nothing).

DUP views on education have also evolved over the years.

There is still a resistance across the divide to embrace the phrase integrated education. An alternative phrase, shared education, is often in fact used as a way of undermining academic selection, and grammar schools.

Getting the education system right is far from straightforward. Many parents want their children to attend schools run by the church that they attend. This desire is particularly strong in the Catholic community, which has many outstanding schools such as St Columb’s in Londonderry, St Malachy’s College in north Belfast and St Dominic’s in west Belfast.

But segregated education in Northern Ireland has made it much easier for children to grow up unaware of, and disliking, contemporaries from the other community. In England, faith schools have hardly helped the problem of disaffected Muslim youths growing up detached from the mainstream.

In greater Belfast, many parents vote with their feet and send their children to schools that are in effect integrated, if not by designation.

This should encourage more young people to feel a common sense of community within Northern Ireland, and to have a greater respect for the diverging traditions within it.