03/03/2006

Minister declines four integrated school proposals

Education Minister Angela Smith has turned down development proposals for four integrated schools across the province.

The proposals were for Clogher Valley, Moira/Hillsborough, Saintfield/Carryduff and funding for an existing independent primary school in Ballycastle.

The Minister said that she realised this would be disappointing news for the parents' groups involved, however it was important to provide clarity at this point when parents are choosing schools for their children in September.

The Minister said that the new schools have been proposed for areas which already have surplus capacity and concerns have been raised about the impact this would have on existing provision.

She said: "Government is committed to integrated education, but we also have a responsibility to manage the schools estate in the light of falling enrolments.

"As the Secretary of State said recently, our existing schools system with its numerous sectors comes at a high price. We need to be more strategic and co-ordinated in our approach, examining new models of schooling, involving sharing of facilities and achieving the best use of resources available.

"The education sector faces a real challenge in addressing parental choice for integrated schools against the impact of falling rolls. I believe that there are opportunities for cross-sector co-operation and would welcome input from the integrated sector to the forthcoming independent review of education on how this could be delivered."

The Minister added that these issues need to be examined carefully and fully in the context of the Government's policy 'A Shared Future' and ensuring that schools are viable.

The Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Intergated Education, Michael Wardlow, said that the decision meant that the schoolchildren were being "forced into segragated education against their wishes."

Integated schools in Northern Ireland have been held as a way to break down sectarian barriers. The province's first integrated school was opened in Belfast in 1981.

There are currently 58 integrated schools, which enrole almost 18,000 pupils.

(SP/GB)

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