LACK of vision, tribal politics and systemic inertia have restricted the growth of integrated education, a Westminster inquiry has heard.

MPs were told that “unacceptable segregation” continued to flourish in the design of Northern Ireland’s education system.

The comments were made in a submission to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee by Nigel Frith, principal of Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh.

The cross-party group is holding an inquiry examining whether the level of money allocated to education is sufficient to meet the challenges facing the sector.

A report from the auditor general found the education system was coming close to a tipping point.

While funding had increased between 2012/13 and 2016/17, there has been a 9.3 per cent reduction in real terms. In that time, more schools have found themselves in the red.

Mr Frith made his written submission to highlight the financial, economic, educational and social importance of integrated education.

Just 65 of the north’s 1,176 schools are integrated.

Mr Frith wrote that the financial benefits were striking.

“Following the integrated model, the needs of the local and school community are met by one principal, one senior leadership team, one workforce and one site/building. This is in stark contrast to the wasteful duplication of systems that exists across Northern Ireland today – duplication that we clearly cannot afford,” he said.

“The economy of Northern Ireland must be ready for a global marketplace; this requires employees who approach their colleagues, their customers and their clients with respect for difference and a forward-thinking mindset. Integrated schools nurture such values deliberately and successfully.”

He added that “lack of vision, tribal politics and systemic inertia” restricted further growth.

“Inertia is dangerous when in fact change is needed so urgently, for our legacy to the young people in our schools and our vision for Northern Ireland to be the right ones – a situation comparable to the myth of Nero fiddling while Rome burned,” Mr Frith said.

“A key solution is to facilitate integrated education wholeheartedly and actively; for DE, the EA and our political leaders to embrace as never before a vision of the potential of integrated education to lead the way in shaping a unified, diverse, peaceful, financially sustainable and economically fruitful society.”

Integrated education, Mr Frith added, provided a model that was financially sustainable.

“In communities that are scarred and struggling toward real peace, it seems completely obvious that young people should be educated together – all day, every day. A central goal of integrated education is the transformation of young people’s hearts and minds.

“This is achieved by actively helping them to respect difference and encouraging them to form friendships that break down barriers. This is not always easy, but it matters. And so we can shape a future that includes respect, peace and healing.”


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