Letter: Unionists favour mixed schools

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The Independent Online
Sir: The policy of educating Northern Ireland's Protestant and Roman Catholic children in the same classroom, as advocated by D. A. Stewart (Letters, 9 October), has more support in Northern Ireland than is recognised.

As a member of South Belfast Ulster Unionist Association, I proposed at the Unionist Party's annual conference in Londonderry on 26 October 1991, a motion which considered 'that the present system of state education in Northern Ireland provides the opportunity for integrated education at every level'. This motion was passed overwhelmingly by delegates of what is Northern Ireland's largest political party.

Interestingly, the debate on this motion drew out two concepts:

First, 'mixed' schools - open to pupils of all religion and none, in which no note is taken of pupils' beliefs and in which the teaching is essentially secular.

Second, 'integrated' schools - schools in a special category, in which staff and pupils are selected, in part, by religious label to conform to a sectarian balance, and in which church involvement is made official by the appointment of chaplains and the special teaching of religion and culture.

Mixed schooling already exists in Northern Ireland; numbers of state schools, designated 'Protestant' but essentially secular, have sizeable intakes of Roman Catholic pupils. I do not know the extent of this mixing, but it occurs in many of Northern Ireland's best known schools.

The support of the Ulster Unionist Party for mixed schooling in Northern Ireland is arguably one of the more significant indicators of public opinion in the province in recent times. To the best of my knowledge the media has not reported or commented on this.

Yours faithfully,