Whist I have some sympathy with the Education Minister’s problems, several recent decisions fly in the face of stated ministerial priorities and obligations.
The decision on Drumragh Integrated College ignores the stated obligation to “facilitate and encourage” integrated education, to allow successful and popular schools to expand and the principle of parental choice.
In the High Court last year, the Department stated that in future, consent of other schools would not be required for a proposal to be granted, area school enrolments should not override the statutory obligation to integrated education, yet this is exactly what the Minister says lies behind his decision.
The education of our children together is a vital component of any shared future agenda, but it appears the Minister still has difficulty accepting this simple premise or honouring his legal duty in this area.
Clintyclay Primary School is trying to make history as the first Catholic maintained school to transform to Integrated status and despite the opposition of CCMS and the Department, Mr Justice Treacy has upheld their judicial review of the Department’s refusal to allow them to do so. Will the Department appeal this decision? I sincerely hope not, but who knows?
Primary school language tuition is regarded worldwide as valuable to children, this has been recognised by the Department by supplementary funding for many years, but now without warning this support has been removed. A vital front line service (these are supposed to be protected) being discontinued to the disadvantage of our kids against those from other countries, and to Northern Irelands long term ability to compete for business.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects are a priority for the Department, to equip our children for their futures in employment and to enable NI PLC to compete for jobs in the world economy. The Ministers response is to cut 50% from the grant to Sentinus who do such valuable and essential work in this field.
Budgetary control is vital to the efficient running of any Department but so is eliminating the costs of a divided society, hence the need to promote integration where parents clearly want it. When budgets are tight the priority must be quality education and the need to equip our children for careers.
By these decisions, the Minister is leaving himself open to the charge of wrong priorities, training too many teachers for too few jobs, Irish Language expansion (which I will support but not at any cost) as well as maintaining segregation.
We await further developments with interest.