Northern Ireland news

CCMS accuses NIO of excluding it from event focused on future of the north

Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown

THE body that represents Catholic schools has accused the NIO of excluding it from an event focused on the future of the north.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) described its absence from the A More Confident and Inclusive Northern Ireland conference as "alarming".

The Controlled Schools Support Council (CSSC) also said it was also not invited.

In a speech at the event, which was set up by the NIO and government agency Wilton Park, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said the British government wanted to do more to promote the benefits of integrated education.

But Bishop of Derry and CCMS chairman Donal McKeown and its chief executive, Gerry Campbell, have written to Mr Lewis criticising their exclusion.

In a letter seen by BBC News NI, CCMS said it was "ironic" that it was not asked to attend.

"The programme asks, 'what can be done to ensure the views of all young people, from all communities, are given the opportunity and tools to engage?'," the letter said.

"Given that the broad family of Catholic schools represents one of the largest providers of education in Northern Ireland, the notable absence of participation and involvement with the Catholic sector is alarming. Indeed, it is rather ironic that a conference with a focus on building inclusion is actually exclusionary in its approach.

"The conference programme asks the question: 'How to work together to build a confident and inclusive Northern Ireland for all? Coupled with the exclusion of all Catholic schools and the bodies who represent them at the landmark event despite the track record of excellence and success within Catholic education, we ask the question to the Northern Ireland Office: 'Does the NIO recognise the contribution of Catholic schools to supporting our young people to reach their full potential and where does the NIO see Catholic schools within its future vision?'"

Mark Baker, CSSC chief executive, also wrote to principals of controlled schools to say it "raised concerns that any conference which includes a discussion on the future of education would be held without the voice of 49 per cent of the schools in Northern Ireland being present".

"We were given assurances that the NIO wish to engage with the sector."

A UK government spokesperson said: "The Wilton Park conference has brought together a variety of academic, public policy, and third sector voices to consider how to work together to achieve a more confident and inclusive Northern Ireland.

"A broad range of factors are under consideration, including skills, education, the economy and social integration.

"The NIO will continue to engage across all sections of society in its work going forward, including the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools and the Controlled Schools Support Council, and bodies in the education sector."

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