Aontú’s education spokesperson and Derry East Rep Gemma Brolly has hit out at Sinn Féin and the SDLP for not rejecting the “flawed premise of the Integrated Education’ Bill” currently being discussed in the Assembly Committee.
Rep Brolly: “Integrated Education is a wonderful component of the pluralist education system of the north of Ireland. It offers parents and children a key option. Aontú is a republican and pluralist party and we fully support this diversity in education.”
“What is of serious concern to many parents and communities is that the Integrated Education Bill implicitly blames Catholic and Protestant education for the division in the North, and mandating ‘integrated schools’ as the solution. However deleting the choice of Catholic and Protestant education is the opposite of pluralism and diversity. It robs parents of the choice of ethos and excellent educational systems, a choice which is embedded in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
“Education is not a one size fits all sector, education is about the best interests of the child being prioritised and the rights of parents over the education of their children respected. This Bill mandates the promotion of integrated education therefore prioritising it as the preferred education for the North and undermines parental choice. Stormont should not be in the business of constructing an educational hierarchy of schools. If the Department of Education decided to designate Catholic education or Protestant education as the preferred educational option, there would be rightly be outrage, or if the DOE stated that private schooling was the most preferrable option, there would be outrage also”.
“Why then is this Bill being supported when it explicitly seeks to create and mandate an educational hierarchy for the Department of Education to ‘promote’ and ‘increase demand for’?”
“There is also much concern about the language being used in the Bill, which denigrates Catholic education. For example, S.1 of the Bill define an ‘integrated school’ as one that ‘intentionally promotes, protects and improves an ethos of diversity, respect and understanding between those of different cultures and religious beliefs and of none, between those of different socio-economic backgrounds and between those of different abilities.’
“Respect, compassion and understanding are intrinsic elements of both the Catholic and Protestant faiths, why would they be absent from schools under their patronage? All of these are taught in Catholic or Protestant schools, does Miss Armstrong have any evidence to the contrary?
“Perhaps, the most concerning element of the Bill is S.7 which seeks to create the presumption that any new school must be an integrated school, ‘unless that would be inappropriate by reason of special circumstances.’ So for a new school to be opened under Catholic or Protestant patronage, these schools would need to argue that their opening would satisfy some special circumstance. This is wrong, and infringes upon the rights of parents and communities to make choices about their children’s education. Rather than pushing a particular form of education, Aontú believe that the Bill should state new schools will be decided by parental demand.”
“Recent research and reports have highlighted the various flaws of the provision or lack thereof within our education system. Instead of creating division, Aontú believe all parties must focus their attention on improving the quality of education in the north for ALL children. There is no greater priority within education at this time.”