25 November 2014

NICIE Briefs Education Committee On Shared And Integrated Education Inquiry



The Committee for Education has just held its third briefing to inform its ongoing Inquiry into Shared and Integrated Education. Noreen Campbell Chief Executive Officer for NICIE, Helen McLaughlin Vice Chair of NICIE Board of Directors and Frances Donnelly Senior Development Officer at NICIE were all on hand to present their views to the Committee and to take Members’ questions.

The NICIE delegation began their brief to the Committee by underlining the current statutory duty ‘to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education’. They made reference to the recent Drumragh judgement and the assertion that integrated education ‘is a stand-alone concept, that is to say the education together at school of protestant and roman catholic pupils …as opposed to integration within school of any other distinct set of pupils’. They reiterated the NICIE call on the Department for Education to actively implement Article 64 to encourage and facilitate Integrated Education.

NICIE also contended that the most significant barrier to Integrated Education is what they view as an unequal approach to education planning. They argued that CCMS has a statutory duty to plan for the maintained sector, the Education and Library Boards plan for the controlled sector, but the integrated sector has to rely on parents to plan, with only support from NICIE who have no statutory remit for planning.

They also highlighted the absence of a central and agreed mechanism to consult with parents in respect of demand for Integrated Education. They stated that it was crucial that the new Education and Library Board legislation clarifies at an operational level how Article 64 is implemented and that the new Education Authority has a clear responsibility to plan for integrated education.

NICIE noted that they felt strongly that by linking pre-school provision to single identity schools, children are becoming divided at the earliest age. They called for the Department for Education to fund only pre-school provision that is non-denominational. They further highlighted their belief that the role of Special Schools in providing integrated education is often not recognised and that the legal barrier preventing special schools from becoming designated at integrated schools should be rescinded.

During the briefing, NICIE emphasised the importance of preparing teachers to support such diverse and inclusive learning environments and called on the Department to implement actions arising from the International Review panel on Teacher Education in NI.

NICIE noted that they supported the concept of shared education where it is based on building community relations through connecting children and young people however contended that Shared Education is a completely different concept to Integrated Education. They added that they support a clear definition of Shared Education and argue that this should focus on its role as a tool for reconciliation. They added that Shared Education should be seen as a journey to Integrated Education.

They further reiterated an argument in respect of the costs of division in education and again called for an inquiry/commission to desegregate schooling in Northern Ireland and also to consider the appetite for integrated education which it contends is significant and growing.

Members were interested in the NICIE contention that the expansion of the Integrated Education sector had been limited by the Area Planning Process and by what they viewed as a failure by the department to live up to its obligations to encourage and facilitate Integrated Education. The Committee was keen to gauge if NICIE believed that parents are in fact more interested in academic attainment rather than the ethos of sharing and reconciliation?

The Committee also asked NICIE to expand further on its calls for a clear definition of Shared Education which recognises the importance of reconciliation and sees Shared Education as a step on the journey to Integrated Education. Members for example wanted to know what impact the introduction of an obligation in statute to facilitate and encourage Shared Education would have on Integrated Education and would this be something that NICIE could or would be willing to support?

The submission from NICIE to the Committee also called for a Patton style inquiry into education in Northern Ireland and the need for a commission to address issues surrounding school ownership and transformation.

You can read NICIE's written submission to the Education Committee and a full transcript from the meeting on our website.