Shared Education

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 17th February 2014.

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Debate resumed on amendments to motion:

That this Assembly notes with approval the concept of shared education; believes sharing between all types of school could lead to better educational and community relations outcomes; further notes with disappointment the failure of the current Minister of Education to effectively facilitate sharing across the sectors; believes that the current area-planning process has not been conducive to sharing between schools and that the ministerial advisory group report on advancing shared education was a missed opportunity; expresses disappointment at the continuing failure to introduce a shared education premium; and calls on the Minister of Education to take practical steps to promote and facilitate sharing, so that a single education system can become a realistic policy goal. — [Mr Kinahan.]

Which amendments were:

(1)

Leave out all after "outcomes;" and insert

"welcomes the initiative by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister in progressing this work through the signature projects; and calls on the Minister of Education to actively assist in this work through the development of shared campuses so that a single education system can become a realistic policy goal." — [Mr Storey.]

(2)

Leave out all after "outcomes;" and insert

"believes that the current area-planning process must be conducive to sharing between schools and that the ministerial advisory group report on advancing shared education provides an opportunity to advance these aims; calls on the Minister of Education to introduce a shared education premium and to take practical steps to promote and facilitate sharing across the sectors and the entire education system." — [Mr Hazzard.]

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

At the outset, I want to say that those of us who think that the best way to bring our children together and encourage better community relations is to educate them together in the same school, classes and uniform will take little comfort from whatever decision the House comes to on the motion or the two amendments.  I note that both amendments leave the first section of the motion unchanged.

I imagine that, in countries where integration is normal and there is no religious segregation to start with, there are situations in which sharing classrooms, teachers and facilities is practised for reasons of economy and the delivery of a full curriculum.  I have no difficulty with that approach.  However, I listened very carefully to what Mr Kinahan had to say when he proposed the motion.  At times, he used the words "single", "shared" and "integrated" almost in the same sentence, without really explaining exactly what he meant.  I do not mean any offence to Mr Kinahan; I know that it is a complicated subject, but those three words are not really interchangeable.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

Well, OK, but to extend the principle that you will get better community relations and promote the ideal of a single education system out of a shared system is perhaps stretching it a bit.  While, in theory, shared education in the format envisaged puts children together, it would accentuate difference at the same time because pupils would be transported across town in different uniforms, eventually coming back to their own sector, their own school, their own environment and their own space.

The motion is, frankly, bizarre; it goes all over the place.  The reference to area planning without the obvious requirement for a single Education and Skills Authority (ESA) to manage it is out of place.  Again, it is all about shared education, not integrated education, and the management of division rather than overcoming it.  It refers to a "single education system", yet the parties that advocate that do not approve of a single education body.  We already have a single system for the curriculum and ultimate government management, yet, in other ways, we do not.  I would happily take an intervention from any unionist who would like to try again to define precisely what the term "single education system" actually means.  If nobody is getting up, I will continue.  Maybe when she is making the winding-up speech, Mrs Dobson will be able to enlighten us as to what it means.  On this side of the House, we do not really know.

The DUP amendment is not acceptable to us.  Some members of the Education Committee — Mr Storey, Mr Kinahan, Mr Hazzard, Mr Rogers, I think, and me — were in Scotland a few months ago to look at a shared campus.  Based on the one that we looked at, if anybody came back from that experience thinking that that was a great idea and the way forward, I would be seriously worried about them.  That school is almost T-shaped.  It has a common entrance door, a common dining area and, apparently, common buses to bring the kids to and from school.  However, there was no other aspect of the operation of that school to which you could apply the words "common" or "shared".  We were told that there were no shared classes and that the two schools operated completely separately in the same building.  We were also told anecdotally, but I believe it, that, when the schools were brought together, some of the staff demanded that the staff room, which was meant to be shared, was partitioned.  So —

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

Yes, certainly.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

I note that the Member has focused on one school that tried that approach.  I do not think that we should look at that as either a failed or a successful school. 

To try to get the point across, this is about setting up a management body with a complete structure that will look at everything to do with education and will slowly funnel everybody towards a single shared education system.  It will be different in absolutely every area, depending on the types of schools that are asked to work together.  It is about trying to get the best out of the system, putting a time frame on it and working together.  The integrated system is an excellent example of that, but it is the major one that you are working towards.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

Yes.  I thank Mr Kinahan for that intervention.  I do not know quite what to say about it, but I thank him anyway.

I try not to be negative about the sharing concept, particularly when I see academics of the stature of Professor Tony Gallagher and others advocating it.  The first line of the motion — to approve the concept — is not something that we could oppose.  Frankly, however, it goes downhill after that.  If it is to be viewed as a step on the road to an integrated system where all pupils can attend the nearest school of their choice without sectoral barriers, it is to be welcomed, but how realistic is that at the moment in this country?  It is just not going to happen.

Instead of building shared campuses, we should be promoting proper integration without the need to abolish any sector.  In England, it is quite normal for Protestant children to attend Catholic schools; it happens here as well.  Look around.  Look at Columbanus College, look at the Dominican College in Portstewart.  On the other side of the fence, look at Belfast Royal Academy (BRA), my old school.  Look at Methody.  All well mixed and well integrated, no problem whatsoever.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The Member's time is almost up.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

Yes, thank you.  We will oppose amendment No 1 and support amendment No 2.  We will listen carefully to what the Ulster Unionists have to say about the motion.

Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP

I will speak to the amendment tabled by myself and my party colleagues.  I commend the First Minister and our party leader for leading the way in the campaign to build a single education system since 2010, when he outlined clearly our party's vision with regard to shared education.  We would all be politically naïve if we thought that it could happen overnight, but our party remains committed to the change.

It is important to note that the First Minister ensured that the objective was in the Programme for Government in the form of Lisanelly, the creation of the advisory group and ensuring that all children had participated in shared educational programmes by 2015, even though some other parties in the Chamber were not in favour of the concept.  Furthermore, our party will not be found wanting in going forward with the creation of a single education system.  We will continue to that end to fulfil our Programme for Government commitment and our party objective.  In the light of the positive comments by my party leader on the subject, I am disappointed by the tone of the Ulster Unionist motion.

Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP

No, I will not.  

The motion is negative in its content and offers little of a practical nature to move this challenging and complex situation forward.  We all know that the advisory group was a missed opportunity.  Indeed, it was the First Minister and my party's education spokesman who said so on the day that the report was issued.  However, despite our criticism of its failings, we have continued to promote the concept in a positive way through the example of the signature project initiative.

No one knows the inadequacies of the area planning process more than I do.  In the Craigavon area, however, my party and I listened to the views of local people — something that others failed to do.  I am pleased to say that we have forced the Southern Education and Library Board and the Minister to think again on the shape of the future provision for the area.  We are confident that the final shape of any area plan will reflect the wishes of parents whose children attend schools in the controlled sector and that, within the framework of the Dickson plan, we will continue to shape provision that meets the needs of all our children for many years to come.

The only positive comment in the Ulster Unionist motion relates to the introduction of a shared education premium.  As a party, we have no problem supporting that concept.  Indeed, Members from this party have been actively promoting sharing in schools in the North Eastern Education and Library Board and other places over a number of years.  Most Protestants still choose to be educated in the controlled school system, while Roman Catholics choose to attend government-funded maintained schools run by the Catholic Church.  Both systems have widespread support in their community.  However, if we are to encourage the promotion of a single education system, we must begin to tackle the issues at hand and start to build on the shared education agenda.  That is exactly what the signature projects and shared campuses will do.  We all know that that will take time.  It will, indeed, need the support —

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP

No. 

It will need the support of all partners in education.  It must be built on the firm foundation of equality and inclusion, and it must be grounded in strong and robust locally based programmes, where the young can meet and share together.  Finally, it must have the positive support of all parties in the House.

OFMDFM has challenged the House with its signature and shared campus projects, a United Youth programme with 10,000 one-year placements, 100 shared summer schools and 10 shared education campuses.  Those are all very challenging tasks, but they make a clear statement that our First Minister is dedicated to delivery.  The signature projects that the Department has commissioned undoubtedly work towards a genuine shared future.

I am a believer in not forcing children together but creating a norm — creating somewhere safe.  Where is safer than a school or an organised summer school or youth programme?

We encourage the Education Minister to actively support the programme.  He must show leadership and demonstrate his desire to create a path that promotes shared education.  He must encourage managing authorities to be active participants in developing shared campuses where there is equality in ownership, governance and participation.  I support the DUP amendment.

Photo of Maeve McLaughlin Maeve McLaughlin Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  I support amendment No 2 and welcome the opportunity to debate the important subject of shared education and examine the policy context of a single education system.

As has been stated, on 10 January 2014 the Minister, John O'Dowd, launched a programme for the delivery of 10 shared education campuses locally.  It is clear that that programme will complement the work that is clearly already under way on shared education and area planning.  Schools locally already work together in shared education programmes and in the delivery of the entitlement framework.  That is a fact.  As was mentioned, the Lisanelly project is visionary.  It will be the largest investment in education facilities ever made, with construction costs estimated to be in excess of £120 million as it brings six schools together on one campus in the town for the first time.

Much reference has been made to the ministerial advisory group on shared education.  Importantly, it found that sharing was not only about sharing across religious barriers but about sharing across socio-economic barriers.  It remains a fact that children in lower income brackets are at much higher risk of educational underachievement.  In my constituency of Foyle, where 35% of children in three wards live in child poverty, there is a direct correlation between child poverty, deprivation and educational attainment.  That cannot be ignored in this debate.

The Minister has rightly outlined his response to each of the recommendations in the ministerial advisory group's report.  He has committed to bringing forward a statutory definition of shared education in the Education Bill and provisions to ensure that the Education and Skills Authority will have a duty to encourage and facilitate it.  The Minister has said that any proposal for a new school must be sustainable and capable of delivering high-quality education for the pupils it serves.  We want to see collaboration, not competition; we want to see sharing, not duplication.

The primary integrating/enriching integration (PIEE) project, delivered across 26 schools, engaged 1,900 pupils.  We have research through the schools omnibus survey on shared education, which received 539 responses from schools.  Interestingly, 285 respondents identified disadvantages from schools, pupils and teaching being involved in shared education, and 284 said that there was no disadvantage.  It is very clear that parents and children want high-quality schools in their community.  They are up for sharing, not separation.

There are 20 recommendations in the report, some that can be taken forward immediately and others that require further consideration and debate.  There is nothing to stop us, if the political will exists to extend and enhance our equality duties to ensure better outcomes and policies.

Research in 2011 showed that, although, on the whole, attitudes to shared education in the North were positive and the potential benefits were acknowledged, in practice there was a range of difficulties that could have an impact on the willingness and capacity of schools to collaborate.  Shared education is a programme of work.  It is a process in its own right.  Therefore, throwing out a line on a single education system without preparatory work, without detail and without connection to statutory duties is asking for trouble.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP 3:45 pm, 17th February 2014

I support the DUP amendment.  Whether we call this area of our children's future and the education of our children "shared education" as a transitional step or a "single education system", a number of underlying and underpinning principles have to be adhered to.  Those, generally speaking, can be summed up in the words "inclusion", "integration", "respect", "responsibilities", "rights", "sharing" and "tolerance".  If those underpinning principles are not adhered to, we will not provide the education system for the future that pupils in Northern Ireland deserve.

I support the amendment standing in the names of my colleagues and reject the amendment standing in the names of Mr Hazzard, Mr Sheehan and Ms McLaughlin.  I do so because the Minister recognises that the area planning that he undertook was a failure and that there were inadequacies in it.  The motion recognises that, but the actions to address it took too long and dealt with the issue only partially.  I welcome the fact that the Minister did address some of the issues, but they were addressed only partially.

The biggest problem — certainly in the east of the Province — is around the South Eastern Education and Library Board and the failure to take action to democratise it.  For a number of years — around four, I think — the board has been run by three appointed persons.  I am sure that they are honourable people, but that means that parents and political representatives have no say in the running of the board.  How can parents share an education system and contribute to it when they and their representatives are excluded from the board?  The South Eastern Education and Library Board is not conducive to a sharing philosophy and does not underpin any of the features that I outlined.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I thank the Member for giving way.  Can he give us an example of how pupils and parents in the South Eastern Education and Library Board area have suffered compared with those in the other boards, which are properly run in a democratic way?  What is the difference?

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

There is a situation at the moment involving the South Eastern Board and the Belfast Education and Library Board that the Minister is well aware of.  It concerns Newtownbreda and Knockbreda high schools.  Parents have no way of influencing the South Eastern Board in the decision-making process there.  Until recently, the Belfast Board had a deficit of councillors.  Four representatives from Belfast City Council are entitled to sit on that board, and it was only lately that the Minister took action to remedy the situation.  That process is not good for sharing.

When moving the motion, Mr Kinahan treated us to a history lesson as an introduction.  In many ways, that is fair enough.  However, the motion fails to recognise that shared education can be achieved only when there is a wider context of improvements across all departmental aspects of our society in Northern Ireland.  Responsibility for that lies around the Executive table.

There is a road to be travelled to shared or single education.  We need to rise to the challenges.  The professionals who are at the chalk face of education are making demands.  A number of Members referred to the desire for shared education and a coming together in education.  Pupils are demanding it, and parents are demanding it.  We will have failed if we do not travel this road.  Future generations will condemn us if we do not travel this road and go towards that goal.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

I will not get any extra time for giving way.

I pay tribute to the First Minister, as has been done, for his vision and his remarks about travelling down the road to a single education system.  The OFMDFM strategy is designed to improve community relations.  It will all be underpinned by the words that I used in my opening remarks.  In doing that, we are on a continuing pathway towards a more united and shared society.  I commend the DUP amendment to the House.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I listened with some amazement to this speech.  This is the group of parties that could not reach agreement at the Haass talks.  These are the people who will lecture us about how we should all get together, build a common future and be friends and do all of that sort of stuff.  Yet, they cannot agree with each other.

Mr Kinahan's motion has rightly been ripped to shreds in the debate.  If we have a single, integrated education system, will every Member send their children to it?  That is the key point.  Is parental choice appropriate?  I defend people's right to choose to send their children wherever but do not try to lecture me that all our children should go somewhere but somebody else's children should go somewhere else.

I listened to Mr Storey, who, removing his glasses, spoke with some seriousness about the matter and about how wonderful Mr Robinson was.  I chanced upon this document, which states:

"Free Presbyterian church slams shared education".

If I am right, Mr Storey is an elder of that organisation and sends his children to different places.  He is entitled to do that, but do not try to tell me through your amendment, "By the way, we should have a single, universal education system".

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Not only am I proud that my children went to an independent Christian school but I will tell you the difference: I paid for everything that they got in the school.  I never asked the state for one shilling.  I never asked the state for one farthing.  I went for faith-based education for my children.  It ill becomes you and whoever gave you that piece of paper to bring my personal preferences and choices into this debate, especially when I paid for those choices.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I support Mr Storey's right to choose whatever he thinks is right for his children.  Although this is not necessarily to do with that individual, I will say this to the Assembly generally:  if you are going to call for a single education system, perhaps people should practise what they speak.  It is hypocrisy if you say the opposite.

Members talked about how wonderful Peter Robinson was for saying, "Oh, I would like us all to get together.  We would all like to be friends.  Let us try to build a future".  It is rank hypocrisy.  Look at all the other policy documents that we talk about, all the other issues that we have and all the things that went on at the Haass talks.  Your actions do not measure up to your words.  What is all this talk about?  If you really want a shared future and shared education, get together around the Executive table and thrash something out. 

When it comes to the Sinn Féin amendment, I am interested in whether we can get some mainstream funding for schools that share education.  If there is a shared premium, I am all for that, and I hope that the Minister will give us some detail about it.  However, it needs to be more than just box ticking; it needs to be something real.  It should not be something that you do just to get extra money.

Our issue with this whole debate is that we may, in the future, want to see — I hope that we all do — some form of unification in this part of the world, which I call Northern Ireland.  We should understand that, although there are differences, those differences should be respected and accorded dignity and we can work together to say that it is not "Them and us" but "We".  However, are we going to do that in one go?  Are we going to do that now?

We have to work in a particular direction of travel.  I happened to watch the 'Sunday Politics' show, and I saw Mark Carruthers having a go at the Minister of Education.  I would love to get all the education spokesmen here on the 'Sunday Politics' show to see what a forensic investigation of their stances would actually mean.  None of them stands up to scrutiny.

One of the allegations put forward in this debate was made by Mr Hazzard, who asked about the follow-through and the detailed plans.  I will tell you what I want to see.  We talk about citizenship at school, but what the heck is citizenship?  What does it actually mean?  I want to find out what people are being told about how to vote, about the issues and about our local history.  I do not want to be in the situation in which I found myself, where I was not taught Irish history and I did not deal with Bloody Sunday or the Maze or any of those issues.  If we are genuinely going to build a shared future, those are the issues we have to confront. [Interruption.]

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Order.  The Member should resume his seat.  As I said before, the Speaker needs to hear exactly what is being said.  I have to remind Members that the rudimentary rules of the classroom apply here: there should be no shouting from a sedentary position.  The Member will continue.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker

There are issues in our curriculum that we need to examine.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

With 20 seconds to go it is a bit late, otherwise, as the Member knows, I would have taken his intervention on board.

We need to work out how we deal with the curriculum.  We need to engage in our history, and we need to make sure that we challenge, understand and, if necessary, confront it and move forward.  Our education system should do that, but we should do it whether we have integrated education, if that is right, or shared education, if that will not do.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

We must find a way to move forward.  Let us invest in our future and stop talking tosh.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Shared education, from everything that I see and hear about it, is one of those fluffy buzzwords that is supposed to give you a warm glow and can really mean whatever you want it to mean.  It is clear in the House that it means different things to different interests. 

To some, it seems to mean the start down a road that will, ultimately, lead to a single education system for which the state pays and in which anyone who wants their own system, be it a church-based system or anything else, will pay for it.  That seems to be the vision of some.  Those who are wedded to faith schools, as they are called, can equally clamber on board the shared education bus and say that they are enthusiasts for shared education.  Yet, their stance is "We will cling to Catholic schools for Catholic children".  That is the essence of the stance of some.  Yes, they can pay lip service to all the nice-sounding shibboleths and jargon surrounding shared education but never will it mean giving up Catholic schools for Catholic children.  There is no chance, they tell us, of it leading to the vision of some others, which is that it is all about getting to a single education system.  So, what does it really mean?  Even the integration lobby is not happy, as we heard from its most fanatical supporters today.  In some way, they feel that it sells the cause short and, in some way, gazumps what they believe in.

So what does it actually mean?  For me and many people out there, that is one of the biggest difficulties with dissecting and understanding what various proponents of what they call "shared education" mean.  Does it mean, for example, that, in the North Antrim constituency, in shared education, we will get to shared sport?  Are Mr Storey and Mr Frew recommending that the kids at Ballymena Academy should perhaps learn to play Gaelic with St Louis or whatever?  Is that part of the process that is being proposed, and vice versa?  We need to be honest and straightforward with our constituents about what we are talking about with shared education.

We then discover that, at the heart of it, something is talked about that would be a premium paid in respect of shared education.  What is this shared education premium?  Is it seriously being suggested that some schools that cannot avail themselves of shared education because of where they are should be prejudiced by getting less money per pupil than those that embrace shared education? 

Let me give you the example of the school that I perhaps know best, Moorfields Primary School, where I chair the board of governors.  It is five miles outside Ballymena, and, happily, it has the facilities that it needs.  It has 200 pupils, seven teachers and a full class for each year.  That school has no particular need, in an educational or infrastructural sense, for shared facilities.  It has no need to share a gymnasium or classes.  So what are we really saying about such a school, which does not need the practical advantage of sharing facilities? 

I can understand that, if two schools are sitting cheek by jowl and both need a new science lab, they decide to build one that they might share.  However, are we seriously saying to schools that are in a situation that is different to that that they are to be prejudiced against in that their pupils are to get less money per head to educate them because they do not qualify for the shared education premium?  I think that we have enough of a hierarchy of funding in this country.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

We have enhanced funding for the Irish-medium sector and for the integrated sector, and now someone is suggesting that we prejudice everyone else by having an enhanced funding premium for shared education.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

At the outset, I declare an interest as a director of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), but I am speaking on behalf of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

To some extent, my comments follow on from what was said previously in the debate.  What is shared education?  What do we mean by it?  I have asked a number of questions of the Education Minister on how it will be defined and what the minimum requirements of sharing are.  There is no clear definition, and, from the debate today, the House is certainly not clear.  As Mr Allister pointed out, it seems to be a blank canvas, and everybody can make it be what they want it to be.

I do know that shared education is not integrated education, and I think that an attempt has been made to try to paint it as that.  Sharing classrooms can mean many things.  It can mean pupils sitting in the same uniform, being taught the same curriculum by the same teacher, but it can also mean two sets of pupils going in through different doors of the same building, wearing two different uniforms, sitting in the same classrooms but at different times and being taught by different teachers to a different curriculum.  That is where my concern lies about shared education, and that is where, for me, neither the motion nor any of the amendments adequately addresses the issue.  For that reason, none of them can command my support or that of the Green Party.

We need some honesty in this debate, and we have to look at why we are here today discussing shared education.  Is it because of a genuine desire to move towards a single education system, or is it, as I believe, an effort to sustain a segregated education system that is crumbling, with falling classroom numbers in many cases and insufficient funds for capital build programmes?  For me, it is the latter.  It is about sustaining our segregated system.  It is not, as some propose, about moving towards a single system.  It props up the very thing that those people claim that they are trying to get rid of:  the various state-funded sectors in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I thank the Member for giving way.  I wonder whether he managed, in the course of the debate, to figure out what exactly is meant by a single education system, because he referred to it twice.  Maybe he has been more attentive than I have.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I thank the Member for his question.  As he pointed out in his speech, the words "single", "shared" and "integrated" were almost used interchangeably.  I support a single education system.  For me, a single system does not mean having different sectors; that is not a single system.  It also means not having academic selection.  With a single system, you cannot have grammar schools and non-grammar schools.  Those are separate systems and separate bodies.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

I want to make it absolutely clear that when I spoke at the beginning of the debate, I mentioned that the integrated sector was very much part of, and the goal of, a single shared education system.  A lot of people seem to be trying to find holes in it rather than sitting down and trying to find a way forward, which was the whole point of the debate.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I thank the Member for his intervention.  It exactly addresses my concern, which is that, somehow, shared education becomes our focus and we forget about what is, for me, the much higher aspiration:  a truly integrated system in which children from different community backgrounds wear the same uniform; they attend the same school and genuinely share a classroom; and they share their childhood experience rather than campuses, which is one of the terms that I heard used today.  I went to Grosvenor Grammar School, and we shared a campus with Orangefield, but, believe me, it was not a shared experience.  In fact, it was a very oppositional experience, and, sometimes, when we saw some of the tougher Orangefield boys, we avoided them.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I will continue because I do not have much time left.  I have heard terms such as collocation.  All these terms are about maintaining our current segregated system in a new way rather than challenging that system and moving it forward towards integration.  To some extent, we are letting some segregated schools fail so that we can use falling classroom numbers as an opportunity to create integrated schools that will be financially sustainable as well as societally good. 

I keep hearing about parental choice and that parents are choosing shared education.  I do not see the evidence for that.  In the Northern Ireland life and times survey, 88% of people said that they supported integrated education.  People will say that they are not voting with their feet.  However, in Northern Ireland, saying that you do not choose integrated education is like saying that you do not choose sunshine.  We do not have the choice.  Only 62 of over 700 schools are integrated, so the real choice is not there yet.  Unless we give the support needed to develop the integrated sector, parents will never be able to make that choice. 

If we are really to move forward with my vision of a single education system— the common education of our children for the common good — we need to move towards a truly integrated system and move on from this mythical concept of shared education.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  A LeasCheann Comhairle, ós mé an tAire atá freagrach, fáiltím roimh an deis labhairt, agus muid ag tarraingt ar dheireadh na díospóireachta inniu ar oideachas roinnte.  I welcome the opportunity to speak as the responsible Minister as we draw towards the end of today's debate on shared education. 

The motion quite rightly calls on the Assembly to note with approval the concept of shared education and the benefits of sharing between all types of school, but, interestingly, ends with a call to get rid of all these types of schools in favour of a one-size-fits-all model. 

The first of the two amendments is helpful in recognising and welcoming the role of the Executive’s Delivering Social Change programme, which was debated earlier today in the Chamber, in helping to advance shared education but also has a single educational model as its ultimate goal, without going into any detail of what that single educational model would look like or what rights and entitlements would be enshrined within it.

With regard to the second amendment, I fully agree that the area planning process must be conducive to sharing between schools and that the ministerial advisory group's report does indeed provide an opportunity to advance those aims.  I previously indicated to the Assembly that I accept that mainstream financial support is required for additional costs involved with shared education.  I am already taking steps to promote and facilitate sharing across our education system.

I will shortly respond to the points made during the debate, but it is important that I start my remarks by making clear my commitment to advancing shared education and to doing so in a manner that puts pupils first.  By shared education, I mean, of course, the provision of opportunities for children and young people from our two main community backgrounds to come together and learn together.  I recognise that many schools already have the confidence to embrace sharing across the community divide — a number of Members referred to that — but others do not, nor do the communities that they serve.  My goal is to support them in taking the steps that they need to take if we are, together, to build a united community.

I also want shared education to be organised and delivered in such a way that it also promotes equality of opportunity and social inclusion more widely.  The primary focus must be on breaking down barriers across the two major traditions here, but it cannot stop there.  I do not think we should be satisfied with cosy sharing.  We know that some of the greatest divisions in education are more to do with social circumstances, not religion or community background.  So, I want the work we do to also provide opportunities for children from different racial backgrounds; children with and without disabilities; children who are carers or school-age mothers; and children from different socio-economic backgrounds to come together and learn together at school and in less formal education.

Shared education is, of course, not just a priority for me as Minister; it is a priority for the whole Executive.  Our Programme for Government prioritises it, our investment in signature projects like the Lisanelly shared education campus demonstrates it, and the work programme being led under the Together: Building a United Community programme supports it.

Events of recent weeks remind us why it is so important that we take every step to give young people from different backgrounds the opportunity to come together, to learn together and, most importantly, to learn from one another.  As Education Minister, a key priority for me is to build aspirations among our young people and to have high expectations for them, but as we have seen in recent weeks, they too have aspirations for us.  They set high expectations for us as Ministers and politicians. 

Results from a recent life and times survey of 16-year-olds tell us that 89% of our young people think that working together with pupils from other schools is a good idea, and 83% think sharing facilities and resources is also a good idea.  So, our young people are up for shared education, but they need our help in providing opportunities.  Almost one third of young people told us in the 2011 survey that they rarely or never socialise with young people from the other community.  Our challenge, therefore, is to help to provide those opportunities.  It makes good educational, social and financial sense to do so. 

I will now turn to a number of points raised in the debate, starting with the SEELB and its political representation.  The SEELB, like other boards, should not be in existence.  We are now seven or eight years into a debate around the establishment of the Education and Skills Authority, which will bring all the managing authorities under the one tent.  Those who are serious about moving towards a single education system would take a significant step forward if we moved towards ESA.

Regarding the political representation on ESA, when I hear Members talking about political representation on boards, I am sometimes concerned that they see that not as a leadership role but almost as a role of, "There go my people; I must follow them".  That is not the role of a board or an elected representative.  Education and library boards, as currently constituted, have a legal duty to give leadership around education duties.  I have to say that, in recent days, a number of them have not.

Regarding Mr McCrea's intervention, which, perhaps necessarily, raised the temperature and colour of the debate a little, the curriculum allows for the scenarios that he set out.

Our curriculum allows, regardless of the sector of the school, the history of any era, from any section of our society, from any part of the world to be taught.  I would encourage schools to debate all the circumstances around Irish history and British history — or however you wish to refer to it.  There is nothing in history that we should be afraid to debate; in fact, we have to learn from history to move on.

I see shared education —

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I agree with the Minister that it is possible to do such things.  However, I am not sure that everybody does it.  I would like to see some direction given to say that we should be dealing with those issues.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I have no power to give direction on such matters.  Our curriculum is set out in legislation in such a way that we set the parameters of the curriculum, then schools teach it in whichever way they and their board of governors feel comfortable with.  However, I would certainly encourage it. 

I see shared education not simply as children in different school uniforms sitting in the same classroom learning the three Rs.  I want to see children from different schools, in different uniforms if need be, sitting in a classroom learning about one another and from one another in a respectful way.  I want to see subjects such as our recent history and our future together broached.  I want to see young people, whether from a nationalist/republican background or a unionist/loyalist background, learning about the history of those communities and what is important to them.  I want to see young people from a Protestant/unionist/loyalist background talking about, for instance, the loyal orders or the importance of parading and bands and what that means for their cultural identity.  I want to see them talking to young people who have never experienced that before, and vice versa.  I want to see the breaking down of the misconceptions around sporting organisations, such as the GAA, and all those sorts of things.  Young people being able to come into a room and talk about those things has to be part of the shared education system. 

Mr Allister pointed out, quite correctly, that shared education means many different things to many different people in this room and beyond.  He asked whether young people from Ballymena Academy should be playing GAA.  I ask this:  why not?  Why would young people from St Louis in Ballymena not be playing rugby or cricket?  It is sport, and it is very entertaining.  Why not?  I do not know the answer to that question. 

Will there be a Catholic sector and different sectors as we move forward?  The reason why we have a divided education system in this society goes back to the foundation of the state and to men like Mr Allister.  We have a divided education system and a divided society because of people with a mindset like yours.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Is the primary reason why we have a divided education sector not because the initial Government of Northern Ireland, in their generosity, decided to fund a separate Catholic system of education because that was the demand of the Catholic Church?  If, instead, the state had funded one system of education and left anyone who wanted a different system to fund it themselves, we would have a single education system.  Does not, in fact, the division in our education sector come from the generosity of funding not one but two systems?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

If you look at the history of funding from the formation of the state right through until perhaps even the 1980s, you will see that "generous" may not be the word to use.  I said "men" like yourself, and those men were involved in many different bodies, not only political but others. 

You said that there are many different interpretations of a shared education system.  There are many different interpretations of "a single education system", which is in the final line of the motion.  A single education system has to protect the rights of all citizens; it has to embrace all citizens; it has to be aware of, acknowledge, support and promote the cultural differences that exist on this island; and it has to allow young people to develop their own cultural identity.  That is where the final line of the motion fails.  Although we should be moving towards a single education system, those who promote it have to go much further than one line in a statement.  They have to talk about how they envisage protecting the rights of individual citizens in a single education system, how they would protect communities and minorities and how they would ensure that everyone is given an equal place in society. 

In conclusion, the proposers of the motion —

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I thank the Minister for giving way.  The Programme for Government targets have been mentioned throughout the debate.  Two of its key targets are to ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in shared education programmes by 2015 and to substantially increase the number of schools sharing facilities by 2015.  Given the proximity to that date, can the Minister update us on progress towards achieving those targets, and indeed whether measures to achieve those objectives have been put in place?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Yes.  I actually meant to deal with your question earlier.  With regard to the four Programme for Government targets on shared education, progress has been made and continues to be made on commitment number 70, which is to significantly progress work on Lisanelly.  Work to establish a ministerial advisory group and the report on that have been completed.  It is worth noting that that report has been with the Executive since June 2013.  I am still waiting to debate that at the Executive table.  Work to ensure that all children have an opportunity to participate in shared education is on track.  We are working towards the announcement of a new shared education programme in spring 2014.  Finally, again, progress on work to substantially increase the number of schools that share facilities is on track.  A call for shared campus proposals was issued in early January.  Proposals are invited by the end of March.  An announcement is planned for June 2014, including on other programmes of work.

I, along with other Ministers, have to report regularly to the First Minister and deputy First Minister on my Programme for Government targets.  They are all in place apart from ESA.  With regard to those matters, it is the only one that is not in place.

In conclusion, the proposers of the motion and, indeed, the two tabled amendments are correct when they say that sharing between all types of schools could lead to better educational outcomes and community relations for society.  I believe that we should recognise the richness of diversity that characterises our system and, with that, encourage sharing to flourish.  My focus and, I believe, that of the Executive in their Programme for Government is to encourage sharing in a system that promotes equality and diversity and encourages confidence in our individual identities and respect for those of others. 

Deirim seo leis na Comhaltaí:  tá mé ábalta ag an dúshlán; tá súil agam go bhfuil siad féin fosta.  Agus sin ar intinn, beidh mé ag tacú leis an dara leasú.  I can assure Members that I am up for the challenge of shared education.  I hope that they are, too.  With that in mind, I will support the second amendment.  Go raibh míle maith agat.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate.  I support the Sinn Féin amendment.

I was fortunate enough to have received a third-level education.  I am eternally grateful to Her Majesty's Prison Service for that privilege.  One of the first things that my tutor told me to do, when answering any question, was to define the terms.  Nowhere here today have I heard the term "single education system" being defined.  In fact, I agree wholeheartedly with Trevor Lunn that the terms "single", "shared" and "integrated" have been used interchangeably.  Anyone with any sense knows that they are not interchangeable:  they are completely different concepts. 

When he was ending his speech, the Chair of the Committee, Mervyn Storey, said that the education system should benefit all pupils, not just a few.  I cannot disagree with one word of that.  For that reason, when we debate education issues here, we should not use education as a political football.  It is much too important for that.  The education of young people is one of the most important things in society.  It is an area where we should, as much as possible, try to get agreement.  If we cannot get agreement, we should at least take the sting or the toxicity out of debates.

I will not try to define a single education system.  However, my guess at what is meant by that is that one size fits all.  Where into that does the Irish-medium sector fit?  I know that Jim Allister in the corner singled out the Catholic sector.  The Catholic maintained sector is outperforming every other sector at the minute on educational outcomes.  Why on earth would it agree to go into a single education system?  Why would the Irish-medium sector do so?  Why would people who want to play Gaelic sports go into a system in which they might not be catered for?  All those issues have to be teased out.

The fact is that we have differences in our society and those differences need to be respected.  The way in which they can be respected is within a shared system, in which we can share facilities and resources and more efficiently target public funds.

Some Members argue that the integrated system covers that.  Steven Agnew made a valiant effort to defend a single education system, but the fact is that the integrated sector still supports socio-economic divisions in our education system.  The sector has been interrogated on the issue in the Assembly on a number of occasions, but it is still not prepared to come out and support an end to those divisions.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I thank the Member for giving way.  Given that integrated schools are not selective, on what does he base his view that the integrated sector continues socio-economic segregation?

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

A number of integrated schools still operate a selection process, whereby students have to do a transfer test to get into those schools.  It is straightforward.  It is not rocket science.

The fact is that there are many sensitivities around bringing different education sectors together.  There are religious differences.  There are communal differences —

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

Thank you very much for giving way.  I very much take the Member's point about looking for a framework and pulling everyone together, but does he not accept that the area planning initiative, as it is worked out at the moment, has caused schools to join together in their sectors rather than move towards what we are all looking for, which is sharing?

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

I am not so sure that I agree on that point.  There are circumstances in which it would be difficult for schools in different sectors to cooperate.  As such, you have a situation in which some schools in a particular geographical area end up sharing facilities or resources with a school from the same sector.  That is not the ideal situation.  I think that the ideal situation is for different sectors to be sharing —

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The Member's time is almost up.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

In any event, I call on the House to support the Sinn Féin amendment.

Photo of Jonathan Craig Jonathan Craig DUP

I support amendment No 1.  This has been a fascinating debate to listen to, and I wrote down some of the comments made.  What I find remarkable is that, in a House that is debating shared education, some Members sitting here have this wonderful slogan for themselves:  new face, new thinking in politics.  What I heard today was old politics being dribbled out to the Chamber by that individual.  I am not at all surprised, because the same individual took a sheet of paper from somebody who is the old face of unionism and certainly represents the old way of thinking when it comes to everything in the House.

Shared education is not a new concept.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 4:30 pm, 17th February 2014

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.  If Mr Craig's last comment, which he did not even have the courage to spell out, was meant in some way to be a reference to me giving a piece of paper to Mr McCrea, I want to nail that lie.  I gave no piece of paper to Mr McCrea.  Perhaps the Member would be big enough to withdraw the allegation.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I do not believe that that is a point of order.  However, if the Member's motive was to get it on record, he succeeded in doing that.

Photo of Jonathan Craig Jonathan Craig DUP

Guilty by association; that is your problem.  What I will say is —

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Jonathan Craig Jonathan Craig DUP

More points of order.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.  Surely we should be able to talk without using the words "guilty by association" and suchlike.  We are trying to have a debate here.  For the record, Mr Allister did not pass me any piece of paper.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I am sure that the Member shares with me the ideals of many other Members, which are that we all have ambitions but do not quite achieve them.

Photo of Jonathan Craig Jonathan Craig DUP

The idea of shared education is not a new concept.  It has been going on in education for almost a decade.  Shared education has been run out in shared area plans for sixth-form provision in schools for quite a time.  It works out in practice, and it means that all sectors have to share courses across different sectors.  It is not a new concept; it has been quietly working in the background for a number of years.  It works in my constituency, and it works in every constituency for every Member.  So the idea that shared education is a new concept is a foolish one; it is something that goes on in practice.  That is because resources in our education system are finite, and, therefore, there is a need to share them. 

It is the sharing of resources that has driven the whole shared education agenda forward.  It is being driven forward by government now because a realisation is settling in on all of us that five separate education systems in this country are not affordable.  Ultimately, I have no idea where those five systems are going, but the one thing that I do realise is that, as a nation and a country, we cannot afford to have five separate systems all funded by the taxpayer.  That is where the problem lies.  I have no difficulty whatsoever with an individual making the choice of a separate education system for their child, as occurs the world over.  However, they pay for it themselves; they do not expect the state to fund it.  Nevertheless, we have the taxpayer funding five separate systems in Northern Ireland.

I listened with interest to what Danny Kinahan said about the motion when he said that we have to go forward with "courage, determination and resolution."  Our education system is moving forward with courage, determination and resolution, but it is all done quietly in the background.  Our educational achievers out there — the principals and the boards of governors — just get on with the job of carrying out that function, and very little is said on a daily basis about the work that is going on there. 

Will this ultimately lead to a single education system?  I do not have a crystal ball, Mr Deputy Speaker.  I do not know where it leads.  However, I know that the imperative is there; this party has led the way for a shared education system.  It makes economic sense, and it also makes sense when you think about the historical divisions that there have been in this country, because others share their opinions when they are in that system.  That cannot be a bad thing for society as we move forward.  So, I commend our amendment to the House.

Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP

I agree with my colleague and proposer of the motion, Danny Kinahan:  this issue is one of, if not the, most important that the Assembly will ever debate.  Looking towards the future, shared education of all young children should be our shared goal.  Government should recognise and celebrate that inside every child in Northern Ireland is a spark of ability and talent.  The question is this:  how do we best find that spark, irrespective of whether it is academic or vocational, and allow it to flourish into later life?  We must never say that one is better than the other.  Everyone is different, and we should not ask, "How smart are you?" but rather, "How are you smart?".

A single shared education system can answer that question.  However, in following on from other Members who spoke today, I think that it is crystal clear that the current actions of the Department, and indeed the boards, regarding area planning have left us far from reaching that goal.  Indeed, they all too often head us in the opposite direction.  How can we truly realise shared education for our children if boards are prepared to force unpalatable solutions down the throats of local communities that are resolutely united against them?

Although this debate is not about the Dickson plan, the Minister and I share a constituency but, it is widely known, we do not share the same view on area planning.  He may well lambaste the SELB for last week finally bowing to pressure and removing option A.  However, he must surely—

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP

No, I want to make my points.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP

Well, if you are quick.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Maybe the Member will clarify for the House what her party's point of view was and whether her party in Upper Bann was united, particularly Mr Arnold Hatch, in relation to the proposals that were on the table at the SELB.

Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP

I thank the Member for his intervention.  I am on the record from 2011, and my commitment is clear on the Dickson plan.  So, I am speaking here today.

The Minister must surely realise that when area planning so enrages and angers communities, something has to give.  How can he truly claim to be putting pupils first and shaping their futures if they and the wider communities continually state their opposition to area-planning proposals?  I join Mr Kinahan in calling for the current area-planning process to be stopped.  Minister, pitting school against school — grammar against high school and primary against primary — is no way to build a shared future.  Indeed, as the Minister's colleagues' amendment suggests, area planning should be "conducive to sharing between schools".

Perhaps the Minister's idea of sharing is to force the amalgamation of schools, irrespective of their views.  That runs contrary to Sir George Bain's report of December 2006.  Minister, in the House, last October, you said:

"As Minister, I see far too many development proposals that are written as if the school up the road does not exist. That has to change."— [Official Report, Vol 88, No 8, p1, col 2].

Why, then, was one sector allowed to unilaterally reconfigure and rationalise its schools ahead of the viability audits and area plans of 2011 and 2012.  All sectors — maintained, controlled, voluntary, integrated, library boards, everyone — should be actively working together and be on an even playing field.  Minister, let us not have a shared out future when it comes to education.  One example is the removal of the certificate in religious education that is required to teach in the Catholic maintained sector.  Forced amalgamations and soured relations, created by the Department, are no way to begin to build that shared future.

Despite these actions, collaboration between schools is happening and is to be welcomed.  I pay particular tribute to the influence that area learning communities have had on sharing between schools.  I have attended a number of ALC meetings and was pleased to see the level of cooperation that exists between schools from different sectors and the fantastic collaborative work between FE colleges.  However, and the Minister is well aware of this, if funding is removed, such collaboration and best practice comes to an end.

I will make some remarks on a number of contributions to the debate, primarily from the party spokespeople.

Mervyn Storey paid tribute to teachers and parents who have for years worked hard to ensure that their schools are open and shared spaces.  That was organic rather than forced, and I also praise those teachers, parents and communities.  He praised his party leader for changing the mind of bishops, which was a little bizarre, and went on to say that a shared future can be all things to all people.  It must be a shared future in which all sectors have an even playing field and, as Sean Rogers said, with no prioritisation by the Minister.  Mr Storey also praised the special schools as leading lights when it comes to sharing, and I totally agree with that.  Their example and continued leadership can be an example to all.

Chris Hazzard, although critical of our motion, said that he wants sharing to flourish in the months and years ahead.  He described how local communities and schools, not government, are leading the way when it comes to sharing.  That is a sad indictment of the success of Ministers and their policies.  Many Members, including Mr Hazzard, praised the work of the Fermanagh Trust as an example for others to follow.  He also said that the scars of the conflict must be addressed sensitively without opening old wounds, and we agree with that.

Sean Rogers said that communities must be brought with us if we are truly to achieve a shared education system, and I totally agree, especially in light of area-planning disasters, including in my constituencyMr Rogers also made an extremely valid point about sharing being a viable alternative to closure for rural schools, and he also called for an even playing field for all sectors.  We can wholeheartedly agree with that.  There should be no prioritisation.

Trevor Lunn made the case for the integrated sector, and I agree that all sectors have to play their part.  Again, there should be no prioritisation.  Mr Lunn also asked that I enlighten him.  Now there is a challenge.

I was disappointed by some Members who were unable to lift their eyes to the endgame of a totally shared education model for the future children of Northern Ireland.  I welcome the Minister's willingness to advance shared education, but I would welcome clarity, Minister, on your view on bringing communities with us.

As I bring my contribution to a close, I am mindful of it once being said to me, "If you started with a blank canvas, we would never in a million years draw up an education system like Northern Ireland has today".  We do not have the luxury of a blank canvas.  Rather, our education system is a product of the patchwork history of Northern Ireland.  For some communities, sharing can begin immediately, which is to be welcomed but, for others, it may be medium to long term.  However, if the motion is to achieve anything, it should focus our eyes on the endgame of a Northern Ireland in which our children are educated not because of their family background but in the best interests of their future. 

Minister, let us not make shared education something that was never meant to be.  Let us encourage equal sharing between all the sectors and not continue with the soured relations and forced amalgamations within one.  I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Before I put the Question on amendment No 1, I remind Members that, if it is made, I will not put the Question on amendment No 2.

Question put, That amendment No 1 be made.

The Assembly divided:

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)

Ayes 35; Noes 20.