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All Northern Ireland schools should be integrated, says DUP MLA

All schools in Northern Ireland should be integrated, a DUP MLA has said. Maurice Bradley, who is a member of Stormont’s Education Committee, made the comments at a meeting to hear evidence on integrated education. Northern Ireland Humanists, which campaigns for a single system of schooling that educates pupils from all backgrounds together, has welcomed the comments.

At the meeting, Mr Bradley said that he is a ‘strong supporter’ of integrated education. He went on to advocate for the role such schools could play in peacebuilding and social cohesion, saying: ‘all schools should be integrated and we do not need another tier of education in the country… If we can learn together then we can live together as well.’

Other parties have also voiced support for integrated education, with Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, who chairs the Education Committee, saying that ‘[separating] children as young as five on the basis of community and religious background is socially and financially flawed’. In the past, the UUP has said it ‘wants to deliver a single state education system where children of all faiths and none are educated together.’ And, while Sinn Fein and the SDLP both support the existence of faith schools, Sinn Fein has previously said its policy is to ‘encourage & facilitate the growth of integrated and shared education’ and the SDLP has said it is committed to offering integrated education as a choice to parents. In 2019, Green Party MLA Clare Bailey said ‘the contribution of integrated education to peacebuilding can’t be overstated’.

In 2018, a poll found that 67.2% of parents would support their child’s school becoming integrated but, according to the most recent figures, only 7% of pupils are educated at integrated schools. Integrated schools try to balance the proportion of pupils from each community they admit, aiming at 40% Catholic, 40% non-Catholic (i.e. Protestant) and 20% other. However, they are particularly popular with families from non- and minority religious backgrounds, with 37% of the pupils at controlled integrated primary schools classed as ‘other’.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘Maurice Bradley is entirely right to say that all schools in Northern Ireland should be integrated and educate pupils from a variety of backgrounds together – this is absolutely vital for a cohesive society.

‘Integrated schools are not perfect – despite serving diverse communities, they are still largely Christian in their nature, with an RE curriculum written by the four main churches that contains no teaching about humanism. However, a move towards the integrated model would mark a huge step forwards in terms of desegregating our society. We therefore urge the Government to stop dragging its feet on the matter and implement a single system of education as a matter of urgency.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at boyd.sleator@humanists.uk or 07918 975 795

Read our most recent article on how Northern Ireland pre-schools are ‘highly segregated’ by denomination.

Read our article on how segregation and religious bias in education poses a major threat to children’s rights in Northern Ireland.

Read our article on how the school governance system bolsters Northern Ireland community division.

Read more about our work on schools and education.

Read more about our work on faith schools. 

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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