Education news

Integrated schooling option `illusory' for many parents

Of Northern Ireland's school-aged population, only 7 per cent attend the integrated sector

HAVING the option to send their children to an integrated school is "illusory" for many parents, a study has found.

Researchers said even those living a short distance from an integrated school were often missing out.

The findings are included in the latest paper published by the Transforming Education project at Ulster University.

It has been developing briefing papers focussing on policies relevant to integration and separate schooling.

It has previously looked at issues including the `Catholic teachers' certificate', schools' religious education policies, separate teacher training colleges, `vested interests' on boards of governors and the exemption of teachers from fair employment legislation.

Of Northern Ireland's school-aged population, only 7 per cent attend the integrated sector.

However, "7 per cent may be more significant than it appears", the paper said.

Households in larger settlements unsurprisingly were found to have greater access to a broader range of schools.

The smaller the settlement, the less likelihood there is of an integrated school being accessible.

For many, especially in smaller settlements, access to integrated education is entirely impractical because attendance would require a long journey each day.

"Even where integrated schools are accessible to households, that choice is often not available because of over-subscription as the growth in the number of integrated schools has been insufficient to meet the demand for places in many instances," researchers said.

"Reaching 7 per cent of the school population in a context where, for many households, integrated education is a far from straightforward option is also remarkable, yet it is clear that some parents, and their children, go to considerable lengths in order to access integrated schools.

"Nevertheless, for some households it is simply not a feasible or realistic proposition under current provision."

While many schools in the sector are oversubscribed every year there are several others that have empty desks.

The paper noted that the Department of Education has a legal requirement to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education.

This does not simply mean it must open new schools everywhere there is demand, however.

A new school could only be opened in an area if there would be no adverse impact on enrolments at existing schools in other sectors.

"This legal obligation must be enacted if those parents who wish their children to attend such schools are not to have their choices seriously restricted," the paper concluded.

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