Prospect of integrated schools in Northern Ireland still a distant dream


When Peter Robinson described Northern Ireland’s segregated education system as “a benign form of apartheid” in a speech in October 2010, it was a remark that had the potential to be a major turning point for integrated schooling in Northern Ireland.

The DUP leader said: “If one were to suggest that Protestants and Catholics would be educated at separate universities it would be manifestly absurd; yet we continue to tolerate the idea that at primary and secondary level our children are educated separately.

“I believe that future generations will scarcely believe that such division and separation was common for so long. The reality is that our education system is a benign form of apartheid, which is fundamentally damaging to our society.

Criteria of race

“Who among us would think it acceptable that a state or nation would educate its young people by the criteria of race, with white schools or black schools? Yet we are prepared to operate a system which separates our children almost entirely on the basis of their religion.” He said consideration should be given to asking a body or commission to bring forward recommendations for a staged process of integration.

Wind forward almost two years and in July 2012 Northern Ireland’s Minister for Education, John O’Dowd, announced the establishment of a ministerial advisory group to look at shared education. Its findings are due to be reported to the Minister by February 2013.

The department’s definition of shared education does not refer to any plans to create a fully integrated school system in Northern Ireland.

It states: “Shared education refers to the organisation and delivery of education to meet the needs of learners of differing community background, race, ethnicity, political opinion and socio-economic status involving schools and other education providers of differing ownership, sectoral identity and ethos, management type or governance arrangements.”


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