Responding to allegations that our local schools are segregating children, Aontú Education Spokesperson on Education and Derry East Rep Gemma Brolly stated;
“A little like the “Integrated Education Bill” President Higgins remarks at the National Women’s Council Peacebuilding Conference were rather biased and insulting. As someone who came through the current system and now teaches within that system, I find it extremely concerning that many of those pushing the promotion of the Integrated Education System above all others repeatedly refer to our schools as ‘sectarian’ and our children as ‘segregated’. This language is both loaded and dangerous and paints a completely different picture from our truly diverse education system. Contrary to what the President would lead you to believe, we do not line up our children and teach them about ‘sides.’ Quite the contrary in fact. We teach as we were taught, we teach mutual respect and diversity, welcoming all faiths and showing genuine respect. We do not TELL our children how to think or what to think, again in fact, we teach them how to be independent and critical thinkers.
While we in Aontú fully support and encourage Integrated Education, we simply do not believe it is right or just to promote it above all others. Parents and guardians are and always should be the decision-makers in what is best for their children. They should never be denied their choice in the education of their family. We feel the passage of this Bill may delete Parental choice from our education system. It will mean your local school, the school your children go to will become deprioritized when it comes to funding in the future. This is wrong all children in school should be treated equally and have equal access to much needed resources on the basis of need.
It is therefore our right as parents to choose faith-based education to help our children, just as it is also the right of parents who are not affiliated to faith not to send their children to faith-based education, but to equate faith ethos with segregation is despicable and deliberately misleading. Our schools did not divide our communities! In the worst of times, they were in fact havens of security, reliability and comfort to one and all. Aontú will not tolerate the easier option and continuous act of ‘scapegoating’ our schools as the sole reason for division of society here.
If our society is to develop and progress, we must truly promote mutual respect and diversity in our collective actions. Those within the Assembly have the opportunity to lead the way in this behaviour, to be the example for society as they attempt to govern it.
As a parent, a teacher and a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator, I implore those set on further insult and division to cut out the scapegoating and bias and offer parents real choice. I implore them so invite ALL voices to the table prepared to listen and not insult and mislead. President Higgins spoke of the “urgent need” for more integrated schools. I would invite the President to speak to any member of school staff at present, staff so stretched I am quite certain they have not had the chance to view the Integrated Education Bill materials. I am quite sure the urgency which they would speak of would regard the current state of education, with growing numbers on embarrassingly long waiting lists, depleted staff numbers, large class numbers which will possibly grow further with the threat of closing rural schools, lack of permanent learning support, the list goes on. These are the URGENT NEEDS of each and every school in the North, regardless of ethos or lack thereof”.