Skip the NI Direct Bar
Skip navigation

O’Dowd signals way forward for shared education

Education Minister, John ODowd, has outlined the way forward for shared education here.
Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Minister, speaking in the Assembly, was responding to the report of the Ministerial Advisory Group on shared education, published earlier this year.

The Minister described shared education as one of the most important and sensitive issues facing society and stated that, if shared education is to succeed fully, there needs to be a shared readiness to change across society.

Mr O’Dowd said: “We have many different types of schools across the north, each proud of their identity and ethos. I know from my visits how much parents and communities value those schools, and how passionately they care about them.

“Having choice in our system is a strength however choice can’t be at the expense of good education.

“In higher and further education, sharing and integration is already the norm. Why should schools be any different? We have sharing in pre-school education and youth services. We have integrated schools, naturally shared schools and many other examples of good practice in schools working together. But we can, and we must, do more.

“Sharing must become the accepted reality at every stage of education, from early years to post-graduate study.”

The Minister went on to highlight that, as the Ministerial Advisory Group had found in their review, sharing was not just about sharing across religious barriers; it is also about sharing across socio-economic barriers.

The Minister said: “There is also a persuasive equality case. We have good schools serving children of every religious faith, and none. Today, no child is denied a good education because of their religion.

“However, the same cannot be said for socio-economic status.

“We know that children living in lower income brackets are at much higher risk of educational underachievement. Our aim is that every child should leave school with at least five good GCSEs including English and maths.

“Today, only 34% of children entitled to free school meals achieve that. For other children, the figure is 68%.

“So a child from a lower income bracket is at double the risk of underachievement. That is unacceptable and we must change it.”

The Minister outlined his response to each of the recommendations in the Ministerial Advisory Group’s report. He signalled his general acceptance to proposals around the mainstreaming of funding for shared education and committed to bring forward a statutory definition of shared education in the Education Bill and provisions to ensure the Education and Skills Authority has a duty to encourage and facilitate it.

The Minister also announced that the Chief Inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate would be tasked to examine how best practice on shared education could be promoted and how teachers can be supported in this process.

In relation to area planning, the Minister committed to developing guidance on how schools and communities can bring forward proposals for sharing through the development proposal process. In relation to the recommendation that the Department should meet parental demand for education, Mr O’Dowd said: “I accept that recommendation in principle, with one important caveat. Any proposal for a new school must be sustainable and capable of delivering high quality education for the pupils it serves. I want to see collaboration, not competition; sharing, not duplication.”

Finally, the Minister endorsed the report’s view that segregation by income was wrong and said that he would strive to limit the damage done by academic selection while it was still being used.

In conclusion Mr O’Dowd said: “The report asks us all to think differently about the delivery of education. It reminds us that sharing begins with respect for diversity and the right to equality. It asks us to put the needs of young people ahead of the interests of institutions and it challenges long-held assumptions about what is possible. Through sharing, we all benefit, and no-one loses.”

A copy of the Minister’s statement, which includes his response to each of the Ministerial Advisory Group’s recommendations, can be found on the DE website.

Notes to editors:

  1. The Department of Education’s ‘Education Works’ campaign encourages families to play, talk, read and count with their child and to ‘Get Involved Because Education Works’. The campaign highlights the vital role families can play in helping children do well at school and improve their life chances. Visit nidirect website for more information or watch the TV ad on the Department’s YouTube channel.
  2. View photos from the Department of Education in our Flickr collection.
  3. Media enquiries to the Department of Education’s Communications Team on Tel: 028 9127 9207. Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699715440 and your call will be returned.