Ballyhackett Primary school in Castlerock will close in a few months’ time. Pupil numbers are low and an application to become the area’s only integrated primary school has been turned down by the Education Authority, the Controlled Schools Support Council and by the Education Minister Peter Weir .
The Good Friday Agreement (1998) was very clear about the responsibility on the Assembly and the Executive to promote integrated education, yet it is almost impossible to find one sustained initiative taken since then that has contributed to that objective.
On the contrary, the DUP and Sinn Fein, in particular, but supported by other parties, have developed a ‘shared’ education programme designed to muddy the educational waters, give the impression of progress toward integration but in fact consolidating the divisions which already exist.
Integrated education should not be the call of last resort, and falling pupil numbers should not be the motivating factor towards an integrated system. But the opportunity offered by Ballyhackett Primary school could, and should, have been taken to demonstrate a commitment to integrated education. It was not and it was no accident.
It is thought that around 7% of children here attend an integrated school. Ninety-three percent do not. That is a figure and a situation which satisfies many groups, political parties, individuals and vested interests. It’s also a major factor in the continued division of this society and the maintenance of two sectarian power blocs.
For as long as those vested interests go unchallenged there will be more Balyhacketts and even less integrated education.