16 October 2010

Northern Ireland's educational apartheid

This morning I found myself in the interesting and probably unprecedented position of agreeing with our DUP First Minister, Mr Peter Robinson. Northern Ireland has a crazy educational system with two main school sectors, the State sector and the Catholic Maintained sector. The former is open to all, but is mainly Protestant, and the latter, as implied by the name, is controlled by the Catholic church and is overwhelmingly Catholic. Peter Robinson would not be the first to point out that this system is medieval, divisive and hugely expensive. It is also seriously unfair that one religion, i.e. Roman Catholic Christianity, is effectively subsidised in its indoctrination of children.

So is it time to abolish the Catholic Maintained Sector, and bring all the education of children into the State Sector?


There is an Integrated Sector in Northern Ireland education, but it remains small and it is not clear that it should be distinguished from what *all* schools should be doing. Education should be free and fair, should not give advantage to particular religious viewpoints, and should promote co-existence, tolerance, and best practice.

What about religious education? It has been clear for years that RE should not be used as an opportunity for wily proselytisers to win converts, but should be education ABOUT religion. It should discuss a wide variety of religions and belief systems (including atheism and secular humanism of course) in order to teach children what these various beliefs mean, and should be geared towards tolerance in a pluralist society.

Problem sorted. Can we all now get behind this campaign and have our children educated together without regard for the beliefs of their parents? Can we dismantle Northern Ireland's educational apartheid?
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  1. "It has been clear for years that RE should not be used as an opportunity for wily proselytisers to win converts"


    (1)It's the Churches' job to church kids.(2) It's parents jobs to parent them. (3) It's the communities job to raise them.

    The government wants Schools to do (2 &3). The 'Big 4' Churches want the RE curriculum to do (1).

    Personally, I'd like to teach. If for no other reason, then it would be a nice change.

    In any case, at Key Stage 3&4 there would be no need to change the RE curriculum, or it's delivery, as it stands. There might be a *little* tweaking of Assemblies, but nothing radical.

    I wouldn't want Integrated or Catholic schools to disappear (or Grammars either, but that's a different story for a different thread). I believe in parental choice. But at the moment such choice does not exist. Your either a Prod or a Kafflik.

    We've a narrow window of opportunity to fix this.

    What's the odds that we miss our chance?


  2. Darn! I'm not a facebook member!

  3. Hey, you got your first random advert! Answers in Genes is a hit!

    Unfortunately the Catholic Maintained sector is digging it's heels in. They need a bit more carrot. Extra funding for Grammars like Aquinas - allow these Schools wider catchment areas - allow a Catholic majority of students- seems a reasonable price to pay.

    I'd send my kid to Aquinas. I think that the CMS would be surprised at how many Prods would jump at the opportunity.

  4. Hi Graham, I'm pleased to be reaching a wider audience for my cogitations :-) You are right about many schools in the CMS - they are indeed excellent. But they should be part of the overall state sector. It is hilarious to see the Shinners twist themselves in knots over this; it shows that when it comes to "equality", they haven't read "Animal Farm".

  5. Shane

    You and Graham are agreeing, can't see where he needs the 'help'. Anyway, I probably pretty much agree too. Part of the problem for people like Graham and me (Jesus following, bible believing, hymn singing fantasy believers!) is that our churches, whether intentionally or otherwise, seem to think of schools as an extension of their evangelism department! Captive audience and all that. Much harder for the churches to contribute to society in a way which gets them noticed for being churches. Much harder to enter the debate in public and sound coherent. Much easier to take an assembly!

    But apart from all that I'm not sure what Mr Robinson is at here. Is he arguing that we go the whole hog and remove the representation of the churches from Boards of Governors? Is he suggesting that we mix the State schools Boards up a bit and give places to representatives from the Catholic Church? Does he mean no formal church representation at all? What exactly does he mean?

  6. Best of luck with the fight. Here in Alberta things won't change too easily.

  7. [Cross-posted comment to Jim's excellent blog]

    At least in Northern Ireland we don't have the homeschooling fiasco - anyone aspiring to provision of education must by law ensure the teaching of the UK national curriculum, and certain basic teaching qualifications are legally required; that is a pretty tall order for anyone, and puts homeschooling beyond the reach of most of the crazy people.

    Plus, the main school sectors, both Catholic and State, have firmly rebuffed creationist attempts to insert their bullshit into science lessons, so things are not at disaster level. However, children are not being educated together, and the interpretation some teachers give to the "Christian ethos" of a school is very often the sort of ethos that excludes those not-really-proper-Christians who belong to "the other sort".

  8. ah, a post from the past - i shall comment anyhow.

    i think you're factually incorrect about homeschooling, just about anyone in the uk is welcome and able to do it with very few restrictions. i've taught a few kids who were homeschooled until about 12 years of age, in one case until 14, and they were all exceptionally well balanced and creative independent thinkers.

    a single, integrated education system? absolutely. the state system as it currently exists? definitely not. the ethos of the state schools that i know best is a bazillion light years away, even with the best will in the world, from what i am empowered to do in the hard-won and carefully nurtured atmosphere of a planned integrated college with a good balance between our various identities and cultures.

    but in the absence of further growth in the integrated sector, keep an eye on what the sharing education programme are doing - excellent work with cross-sectoral collaboration. this could be a useful staging post for a while: highly incentivised collaborative programmes. (but seriously look at what they're doing - it's not just throwing money at sending kids on jollies and hoping for the best!)