School closures pose challenge for Northern Ireland

Alliance Education Spokesperson Trevor Lunn MLA will say in an Assembly debate today that obviously no-one not wants to close any local schools, but a realistic approach must be taken given the current economic climate and pressure on the public purse. He said that creating more integrated schools and ending division in education would be the best way to deliver value for money.

Trevor Lunn MLA said: “We want a solution to this problem using the great potential of the integrated sector to offer high quality education in line with demand.

“In an ideal world, we would not see any schools close, while also seeing new schools offering new options opening. However, in this less-than-ideal world, we have to deliver a system which provides appropriate skills for the workplace, appropriate provision for parents, and appropriate expenditure given the restricted budget.

“An education system pointlessly segregated along religious lines does nothing for us. It segregates children at the very outset; it means the education budget must be spent on bricks and mortar for two schools where often one would suffice. It is plainly unsustainable in the context of a broadly declining population and changing educational needs.

“It is for this reason that the ‘Sustainable Schools’ policy and ‘Area-based Planning’ policies should be brought forward urgently, and ideally merged. It is also for this reason that we advocated a review of the viability criteria of integrated schools, so that this sector plays its full role in solving the problems that exist.

“There can be no excuse for keeping clearly unviable schools open, leaving money to be spent on buildings and their upkeep, when it should be spent on children and their education. Furthermore, there can certainly not be any excuse to keep schools open just because they serve a certain ‘community’. In a world where competition for skills, jobs and talent is global, the sooner children are exposed to diversity, the better.

“It is time we developed an educational policy which is sustainable – socially, economically and educationally, for the 21st century. We need to see the sustainable schools policy and review of the criteria for integrated schools proceed without delay.”


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