The Accord Coalition for inclusive schooling has urged that realistic lessons be learned from Northern Ireland’s religiously divided education system.
The comments follow a call at the weekend from Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, for children to attend shared schools. Currently 95 per cent of the country’s pupils attend either a Catholic or notionally Protestant school.
The chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, said: ‘Single-faith schools have certainly not created all of Northern Ireland’s sectarian problems, but they do help perpetuate them by allowing children from different backgrounds to grow up apart from each other, serving to create environments where mistrust between groups more readily grows."
The Accord Coalition brings together people from a whole variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds to work together for a reform of faith schools policy in the UK - particularly an end to discrimination in admissions, employment and the running of the curriculum.
Dr Romain explained: "Peter Robinson’s call for Protestant and Catholic children in Northern Ireland to attend the same schools and thereby end the 'them and us' culture has lessons for Great Britain. We do not want our wonderfully multi-faith society to become multi-fractious, nor for children in the next generation grow up as strangers to each other."
The Accord Coalition chair said: "Mixed schooling has a very positive effect upon the growth of mutual understanding. Rather than encouraging division by segregating children on the grounds of belief, all parts of the UK should implement an integrated school system, where those of all faiths and none attend together, learn about each other and mix socially every day."
Among the key findings of ‘Social Capital, Diversity and Education Policy’, by Professor Irene Bruegel of the London South Bank University Families & Social Capital ESRC Research Group (2006) were that: “Friendship at primary schools can, and does, cross ethnic and faith divides wherever children have the opportunity to make friends from different backgrounds. At that age, in such schools, children are not highly conscious of racial differences and are largely unaware of the religion of their friends … There was some evidence that parents learned to respect people from other backgrounds as a result of their children’s experiences in mixed schools.”
Ekklesia is a founding member of the Accord Coalition (http://accordcoalition.org.uk/).