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`Stop enshrining sectarianism' in schools system, poll urges

The poll was told it was time to "stop enshrining sectarianism" in education

MONEY should no longer be "wasted" on funding parallel school sectors, a survey has found.

A Northern Ireland-wide poll was told it was time to "stop enshrining sectarianism" in education.

The survey concluded that political leaders had done little to encourage integrated schooling since the Good Friday Agreement almost 20 years ago.

Carried out by LucidTalk and commissioned by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), it also revealed "an appalling picture of poverty in schools".

The `attitudinal poll' sought to research views on the current state of education in the north and explore possible ways forward.

Cash strapped schools have been warned to urgently review their budgets and make difficult decisions after learning there is no extra money coming. Many schools are already struggling to stay in the black.

As well as publishing responses to questions, selected comments from the poll participants have also been released.

Many spoke about budget cuts. In some schools, money was so scarce that "teachers have to buy their own whiteboard markers" while there were "constant fundraising to buy smart screens and other basic things".

Respondents were asked how the Departments of Education and Finance should act to save money and ease pressures. Responses included:

:: Stop wasting money on parallel systems. Integrate the provision

:: Transport costs ought only to be allowed if child is travelling to closest school

:: Cut overheads and bureaucratic waste at centre. Too high

:: Stop enshrining sectarianism in the system. One group of state schools to be funded anyone who wants an alternative - fund it yourself

Almost two-thirds of those polled said political leaders had done little or nothing to facilitate and encourage integrated education in the years since the Good Friday Agreement. Currently only around eight per cent of pupils in Northern Ireland go to integrated schools.

Asked what they thought had held up the growth of integrated education, parents also said the influence of Churches was to blame.

More than 80 per cent agreed there should be an independent, root and branch review of the way that education was planned and delivered in Northern Ireland, "to make recommendations for improved efficiency and effectiveness".

"Totally scrap the existing system, build totally new schools which are better situated and easier to run. Raise the money from the sale of existing school grounds. Big outlay but lower running costs, and boost economy," one response read.

Another read: "Cut the duplication which the sectarian divide perpetuates."

And another said they found it "crazy that we are funding effectively four separate education systems at primary and secondary level. There is no religious segregation at tertiary level".

:: Full results are available online at www.ief.org.uk/resources.

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