The SDLP has long believed that if we are serious about a shared future then we cannot continue to educate children apart.
Our current divided education system effectively passes on the old divisions and prejudices of the past to children in their most formative years. This cannot continue. We have achieved a fair measure of integration in higher education so now is the time to face the challenge in the primary and secondary sectors.
The SDLP will actively build and promote the development of integrated education in Northern
Ireland so that it becomes the educational format of choice for an increasing number of parents and children. Our plans to develop integrated education will still operate in a context where parental choice remains paramount. In addition we are not confined to the current model of integration – there is scope to develop integrated education which builds upon the faith element of schools. For example there is no reason why a Catholic school cannot become an integrated school.
The SDLP’s view is that the current DUP/Sinn Fein ‘Shared’ education campuses initiative does not go far enough. Their model, which brings Catholic and Protestant schools closer together to share some facilities, actually maintains and institutionalises segregation. The SDLP model for integration means all children wearing the same uniform being taught by the same teachers in the same classroom. Within this framework it is still possible to have a diversity of religious elements built into the students’ weekly schedule.
The present demographic context in education – a very substantial oversupply – presents a tremendous opportunity to rationalise the school estate in favour of integrated education. It is the SDLP view that every area planning partnership should be aiming to maximise the integration of students within their planning area. The SDLP will set targets for each planning area and performance in meeting those targets will be a key consideration in the allocation of resources and new investment.