HC Deb 09 February 1989 vol 146 cc1120-1
8. Mr. Harry Barnes

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if, in light of the recent initiatives taken by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, in relation to programmes for mutual understanding, he has any plans to integrate the teacher training colleges in Northern Ireland.

Dr. Mawhinney

No, Sir.

Mr. Barnes

We should all realise the importance of integrated education in Northern Ireland. It can probably be advanced only slowly. With the exception of teacher training, nowhere is it more important than in higher education, where it operates extensively. Do the Government propose to do anything about assisting the integration of teacher training by moving slowly over difficult problems but providing finance, setting up a working party and doing all they can to extend the principles of mutual understanding by extending integration?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman's question weaves two strands. Some time ago a working party was set up. It reported and it was not possible to make progress in the direction of the hon. Gentleman's question at that time. I have no plans to re-establish such a working party. Of course, the Government accept the importance of integrated education. Indeed, the two teacher training colleges have been seeking to find some common ground on the training of teachers in education for mutual understanding. I have encouraged that and will seek to continue to encourage it.

Mr. Bowis

Given the importance of the future generations of Northern Ireland learning from their history and not reliving it, will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to the teaching of history and, coupled with that, the review of the curriculum for history? Will he ensure that violence and extremism on either side of the divide are not encouraged to be part of that teaching?

Dr. Mawhinney

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and I can tell him that, subject to the will of the House, under our new proposals, for the first time in Northern Ireland, schoolchildren from ages five to 16 will be taught history under the same programme of study.

Mr. Mallon

Is the Minister aware of the growing concern that exists in all kinds of schools, be they integrated, controlled or voluntary, about the Department's policy of publicising school inspectors' reports? Will he agree with me that these have been used quite shamelessly on a selective basis by some sectors of the media? Because of the growing concern and the abuses, will he give the House a commitment that he will review the decision of his Department to make these reports public?

Dr. Mawhinney

No, Sir. There are two quite separate issues here. The first is whether inspectors' reports should be published. The Government believe that they should be, just as they are in England and Wales. The other issue is the use—and at times, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, the selective use—of those reports, particularly in local newspapers. That is not an attractive aspect of local reporting in Northern Ireland and, like the hon. Gentleman, I should like to see a more balanced reflection of what the inspectors have actually said about schools.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is it not true that all the trainee teachers in Northern Ireland could be accommodated in one teacher training college at considerable saving to the hard-pressed taxpayer? Will he consider ending the religious apartheid in teacher training and, therefore, in schools throughout Northern Ireland by moving teacher training into the university, no matter what people might say to the contrary?

Dr. Mawhinney

As the hon. Gentleman knows, because he takes a deep interest in these matters, he reflects a view held by a number of people in Northern Ireland. However, that is not the majority view, for reasons that he understands. But I note what he says.