Shared Education: East Antrim
- Mr Beggs asked the Minister of Education to advise what progress there has been in encouraging shared education facilities that might benefit the children in the East Antrim constituency, given that, in times of difficult financial budgets, shared education facilities can bring economic benefits and, equally as important, are beneficial to young people and communities. (AQT 1431/11-15)
Mr O’Dowd: I outlined during the previous question session how we are contributing to the physical character of shared education in terms of the provision of campuses and facilities for schools, and I believe that, in the coming days, OFMDFM will be making a significant announcement in relation to how we can contribute towards the resources required for schools to carry out shared education as well.
Mr Beggs: In the past, there was a significant opportunity to promote shared educational facilities when the then St Comgall’s College and Larne High School had a close working relationship, with shared classes and children being exchanged from each school, but, sadly, the decision was made to amalgamate three schools in the maintained sector and to transport those children some 17 miles outside of the town.
So, my question, Minister, is this: in the future, will one education sector’s priorities trump those of the people of Northern Ireland, and how do we try to ensure that we have the best system to suit everyone and maximise the opportunities that exist?
Mr O’Dowd: I suspect that each Member would answer your question differently, depending on which sector they were talking about. I believe that shared education can be a significant driver in changing attitudes in our society and in improving the educational outcomes of our young people. Shared education is in area planning, along with part of the terms of reference for the different participants in it.
However, we are at a stage in shared education where I think that it would be a mistake to impose solutions, whether that is on communities or sectors. I believe that we have a role to encourage and to perhaps nudge them along the road. However, I think that if we were to impose solutions on sectors or communities at this stage of the journey, the concept is doomed to failure. As I said in previous answers, there are many, many schools out there that are involved in shared education programmes on a daily basis that have been doing so quietly for many, many years and have been leaders in this programme. So, yes, there is a central role for government to play in this, and there is a central role for the Department of Education and the Minister to play, but I believe that, at this stage, encouragement will reap more benefits than imposing solutions on people.