A FLOURISHING independent schools sector could emerge in Northern Ireland if a balance is not achieved beween academic and vocational studies, it was claimed today.

The warning came at the annual conference of Northern Ireland's largest teaching union.

Alan Longman, a science teacher at Ballymena Academy, told NASUWT delegates that a system had to be devised where "a collegiate and inclusive system of educating all children together is obtained".

Mr Longman, who was installed today as the union's Northern Ireland president, welcomed the abolition of the 11-plus exam from 2008.

"The present system, using supposed academic abilities as the basis of assessing the appropriateness of a particular educational pathway for children, has created social and educational apartheid and created in many young people a sense of guilt and failure," he said.

Mr Longman also addressed the on-going row with employers over pay.

Industrial action is currently taking place in schools across the province and the NASUWT is stepping up its action from March 15 when members will refuse to cover absent colleagues' lessons, as well as continuing with current action which has affected out-of-hours meetings.

"Northern Ireland teachers will not be treated as second class citizens," Mr Longman added.

At the conference in the Tower Hotel in Londonderry delegates were also due to debate a motion calling on the employers to ensure that adequate security measures are put in place to protect buildings, teachers and pupils.

The conference also called for an assurance to be given by the employers that the provision and maintenance of such measures will not be taken from the school's budget.