Educational segregation in the North is costing more than £600,000 (€683,000) a day, according to new research by Ulster University.
Some 25 years after the Belfast Agreement called for religious segregation of schools to be tackled in the interests of building a “shared and peaceful future”, almost 93 per cent of pupils still attend schools that “reflect the divided nature of Northern Irish society in the composition of their classrooms, their staffrooms and their boardrooms”.
The research paper found that a British or Irish ethos is “embedded” in the subjects taught, the sports played, school holidays and “perspectives that pupils are exposed to on religion and historical events”.
Funded by the Integration Education Fund, the research paper also warns that the current system has a high social and financial cost during a period of big cuts to the Stormont education budget.
Last week it emerged that so-called “holiday hunger” payments to more than 96,000 children entitled to free school meals had been axed, while a mental health and counselling programme for primary schoolchildren also lost its funding.
After compiling figures provided by the Stormont Executive, the European Union and Deloitte, the Ulster University researchers estimated that the cost of maintaining educational segregation amounts to about £226 million – or more than £600,000 every day.
“Each side has their own state-funded bureaucracy to manage the schools that they control. While many schools struggle to fill all of their vacant desks, in the largely rural environment of NI, buses regularly pass one perfectly adequate school in order to ferry pupils to another that better reflects their assumed national/cultural identity,” they found.
Lead author Dr Stephen Roulston said: “Funding which could be spent directly on educating children and young people is wasted. There will be some cost to addressing difference, reforming school structures, reorganising governance of schools, preparing teachers to engage with contentious issues with their learners and investigating alternatives to our divided education system. The alternative – continued division and communal distrust and all the social and economic impacts that may engender – may well be more costly. The question is not ‘can we afford to address this?’ Instead, it should be ‘can we really afford not to?’”