>> 14 Sep 2004

Reading, Writing and Integration

In August, news came through that Northern Ireland's integrated school sector had just received the biggest boost in the last twenty years. A number of schools had opted for integrated status, taking the number of Catholic and Protestant children educated together to almost 20,000. I have always been a big fan of integrated education in the Province: a sentiment shared by religious leaders in the different Protestant denominations there.

Why then should the Roman Catholic hierarchy be unique in their disdain for integrated education? Catholic opposition to the concept is long-standing, but puzzling nonetheless. Is there something about wishing to preserve the ridiculous tenets of 'Irishness' in Catholic schools which prevents the church from wholeheartedly supporting joint education? By adopting this stance, the church is doing its scholastic sector no favours whatsoever. Enrolment in Catholic schools is falling faster than in any other sector in the Province. At secondary level the figure is slightly above 50% of the total; in the primary sector it is below 50%; and in the first year enrolment at primary level it is barely 47%. The figures, naturally, conform to shifting demographic trends coupled with the rapid fall in the Catholic birthrate. It is way beyond the time for Catholic clergy to be championing segregated Catholic education as a key in resolving community differences. In 2001, 44 teaching posts were lost in the Catholic sector compared to only 12 in the largely Protestant 'Controlled' sector. If Catholic church leaders honestly believe that Catholic education in Northern Ireland is capable of regaining its former strength, they seem to be the only ones with that opinion.


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