Speaking after the meeting, Alliance Leader David Ford stated: “It was a privilege to host Secretary Riley in Stormont today. While no two situations are the same, Northern Ireland has much to learn from integrated education in the United States, and in particular from the hands-on experience of Dick Riley, both at state federal level.
“Northern Ireland is facing two challenges. The first is addressing the demographic downturn which has already created 50,000 surplus places in schools and potentially 80,000 by 2012. The second is, meeting the overwhelming demand for shared and integrated school places in Northern Ireland.
“Schools in the United States were desegregated over a relatively short period of time. While this had to be done through the courts in many instances, in Northern Ireland we have the opportunity to plan for the future. Notably, the US rejection of ‘separate but equal’ is now mirrored in Northern Ireland’s shared future agenda.
“However, at present, no organisation has either the responsibility or the capacity to plan future education provision for Northern Ireland.
“There are many different ways to achieve increased sharing in education.
“The value of diversity in education should be more clearly understood, in terms of the benefits for both students and communities.
“Schools in America are the main focal point of community life. Often libraries, recreational facilities and sports grounds are all located around schools. This co-management means that resources are able to go much further in promoting integration.”