The Business of Education: An IEF report launch
by Catherine DOYLE for Northern Ireland Foundation
24 March 2014
“I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.” That was okay for Mark Twain, but Northern Irish pupils don’t have much chance of working towards a shared society with segregated schooling.
The Integrated Education Fund (IEF) launched a report yesterday at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, about business and education. The results stem from a Lucid Talk poll of business leaders’ opinions on education. MLAs Mervyn Storey and Sean Rogers sponsored the event, which included speakers from the business community and attracted an assorted audience from the civic community across Northern Ireland. Tim McGarry was also in attendance.
Mervyn Storey (the Chairperson for the Committee of Education) opened the event. Paying tribute to the work of the IEF, he said: “There’s no better place to build in our community than in our schools.” Talking about education, he admitted that “it’s a challenge to political leaders”, but one that public opinion is clear about in a desire to move forward.
Ken Cathcart (IEF Trustee) explained how the report is the “latest in a series of civic conversations” that aim to allow “children to learn together in an atmosphere of diversity”. Cathcart pointed out that there is segregation between Protestant and Catholic schools, but also “disparity between the highest achievers and the lowest achievers”.
Cathcart stressed that there is a need for “meaningful interaction of the school community” to diversify children. He summarised the importance of schools making both Protestant and Catholic connections with the African proverb: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
Those surveyed held positions of seniority, and represented the business sector across Northern Ireland.
Bill White (Managing Director, Lucid Talk) explained that one of the overarching beliefs that emerged was that integrated education would lead to better teamwork in the workplace.
John Armstrong (Managing Director, Construction Employers Federation) approached the poll from three different perspectives: as a representative of CEF, the business community, and also from a personal experience. Mr Armstrong talked about his three years in a Protestant primary school. The playground rumours included “Catholics’ eyes are closer together”. Armstrong said that those “false messages of mistrust” and “demonisation” must be stopped. He called for a rationalisation of the education system. Armstrong believes that the way forward is for schools to integrate and serve their locality, as opposed to creating a ‘them’ and ‘us’ culture.
Mr Armstrong also criticised schools with communal buildings, as not dealing with the problem. “They’re shared facilities, but maintain the same divisions.”
The Managing Director said that we cannot afford different dimensional schools, as it “creates a bad impression on the world stage”. The prospect of investing in Northern Ireland would therefore be more stable.
The poll indicates that the business community in Northern Ireland support a de-segregated education system. The IEF are now planning a consultation that will take their findings to the next step.
220 Business leaders took part in the following survey across Northern Ireland, between 3-18 October 2013. The companies polled ranged from small, medium and large businesses, and only included those in positions of seniority, e.g. Managing Director, Financial Director and General Management. The results suggest that there is strong support for an integrated education system.
Possible answers: strongly agree, agree, don’t know/neutral, disagree, or strongly disagree.
Q1: Would you agree that a de-segregated education system could contribute to strengthening cross-community relationships in the workplace and impact positively on economic growth?
92%- ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed.’
Q2: Would you agree that the additional cost of maintaining a segregated education system would be better invested in developing skills to meet future employment needs and help economic growth?
95% ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed.’
Q3: What are your concerns about the current education system in relation to how it would impact on your business? (Qualitative question).
Main responses: Employability skills, training and work placements; and the importance of a more integrated educational experience. This would lead to better teamwork in the workplace, and thus better economic performance overall.
Q4: How can you, as a business leader, help transform our education system, which would contribute to a more cohesive society and a strong economy?
There should be better liaison and connection between schools and businesses.