The following is a speech by Jim Allister during yesterday’s debate on shared education:
“Shared education, from everything that I see and hear about it, is one of those fluffy buzzwords that is supposed to give you a warm glow and can really mean whatever you want it to mean. It is clear in the House that it means different things to different interests.
“To some, it seems to mean the start down a road that will, ultimately, lead to a single education system for which the state pays and in which anyone who wants their own system, be it a church-based system or anything else, will pay for it. That seems to be the vision of some. Those who are wedded to faith schools, as they are called, can equally clamber on board the shared education bus and say that they are enthusiasts for shared education. Yet, their stance is “We will cling to Catholic schools for Catholic children”. That is the essence of the stance of some. Yes, they can pay lip service to all the nice-sounding shibboleths and jargon surrounding shared education but never will it mean giving up Catholic schools for Catholic children. There is no chance, they tell us, of it leading to the vision of some others, which is that it is all about getting to a single education system. So, what does it really mean? Even the integration lobby is not happy, as we heard from its most fanatical supporters today. In some way, they feel that it sells the cause short and, in some way, gazumps what they believe in.
“So what does it actually mean? For me and many people out there, that is one of the biggest difficulties with dissecting and understanding what various proponents of what they call “shared education” mean. Does it mean, for example, that, in the North Antrim constituency, in shared education, we will get to shared sport? Are Mr Storey and Mr Frew recommending that the kids at Ballymena Academy should perhaps learn to play Gaelic with St Louis or whatever? Is that part of the process that is being proposed, and vice versa? We need to be honest and straightforward with our constituents about what we are talking about with shared education.
“We then discover that, at the heart of it, something is talked about that would be a premium paid in respect of shared education. What is this shared education premium? Is it seriously being suggested that some schools that cannot avail themselves of shared education because of where they are should be prejudiced by getting less money per pupil than those that embrace shared education?
“Let me give you the example of the school that I perhaps know best, Moorfields Primary School, where I chair the board of governors. It is five miles outside Ballymena, and, happily, it has the facilities that it needs. It has 200 pupils, seven teachers and a full class for each year. That school has no particular need, in an educational or infrastructural sense, for shared facilities. It has no need to share a gymnasium or classes. So what are we really saying about such a school, which does not need the practical advantage of sharing facilities?
“I can understand that, if two schools are sitting cheek by jowl and both need a new science lab, they decide to build one that they might share. However, are we seriously saying to schools that are in a situation that is different to that that they are to be prejudiced against in that their pupils are to get less money per head to educate them because they do not qualify for the shared education premium? I think that we have enough of a hierarchy of funding in this country.
“We have enhanced funding for the Irish-medium sector and for the integrated sector, and now someone is suggesting that we prejudice everyone else by having an enhanced funding premium for shared education.”