CRAIGAVON’S only Alliance councillor has backed party leader David Ford’s call for more integrated education - and called for a concentrated study in the borough.
Councillor Conrad Dixon believes that Mr Ford’s 20-20-20 vision - 20 per cent in mixed education by the year 2020 - is achievable, “indeed vital if Northern Ireland is to move forward”.
And he is perturbed that the figures in Craigavon are well below the current Northern Ireland average of six per cent, with just 2.39 per cent in the primary school sector and five per cent in the post-primary schools.
Craigavon has two ‘mixed’ schools, both in Councillor Dixon’s Central Ward - Portadown Integrated Primary School (208 pupils) and Brownlow College (345 students).
He said, “Both schools are doing an excellent job, but the numbers are inadequate. There is definitely a need for integrated education on two counts - firstly, an increasing number of parents want it, and it is essential if we are to tackle the divided society of Northern Ireland. There must be moves to build further schools in Craigavon as the figures here are below the province’s average which is, frankly, too low.
“Our party also pointed out last year that it is costing £1 billion a year for Northern Ireland to continue on the route of segregated education, and that money would be better spent on general provision. And on top of that, small country schools - with state and Catholic ones cheek-by-jowl are struggling, whereas if they were united, they would make one excellent, viable school. It doesn’t make sense.”
The Ford integration call was contained in a ‘Shared Future’ document released by Alliance on Tuesday, and was the only section closely examined by the media, and Councillor Dixon.
Meanwhile, Mr Feargal Magee, principal of Portadown Integrated Primary School (PIPS), has underpinned the need for further places in integrated schools, adding that he has had to turn away families on a regular basis.
He said, “Every year more than 500 children are turned away from oversubscribed Integrated schools. This presents great difficulty and concern for many parents. This has also been the case at Portadown Integrated Primary School where many children have not been admitted to Nursery, primary 1 and other classes for many years.”
He added that a growing number of parents from Protestant, Catholic and other faiths wanted their children educated together in one school, in a way which promotes a positive sense of their own identity, and an understanding and respect for the identity of others.
“Parents send their children to Portadown Integrated Nursery and Primary school for a variety of family, educational and proximity reasons. They believe that by educating their children together they learn to trust, respect and understand each other’s cultures and backgrounds.”