HC Deb 14 January 1998 vol 304 cc334-6
3. Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

What plans she has further to develop the integrated schools sector. [20853]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tony Worthington)

The pace of development of the integrated school sector will be driven by parental demand. I will continue to respond positively to viable, cost-effective proposals both for new schools and from existing schools which wish to transform to integrated status. In the past year, approval has been given to eight proposals for integrated schools, which is the highest number ever approved in a year. I am pleased to say that this morning I was able to give the go ahead to the transformation of Kircubbin primary school to integrated status.

Mr. Thomas

I welcome my hon. Friend's reply and especially the news that another primary school has been granted permission to transform to controlled integrated status. Does he agree that there remains considerable unmet parental demand for integrated education in Northern Ireland? Will he assure the House that his Department will continue to work actively alongside the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education to encourage existing schools to meet the criteria to transform into genuine, integrated schools?

Mr. Worthington

I can give that assurance. Obviously, we have to lay down fair criteria on the number of parents, on the balance between the two communities, on finding sites and on the impact on other schools. There was a recent problem when we had to turn down a couple of applications because we were fearful of the impact on other integrated schools that were building up. We shall continue to work with the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education to stimulate more integrated schools where parents want them.

Mr. William Ross

Northern Ireland has a state sector that is open to all and a Church-dominated sector that is also open to all. Why, then, is a third sector being created? Will it be cost-effective in the cost per pupil?

Mr. Worthington

The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue before. Where schools already have a balanced intake but do not call themselves integrated, it is open to them—and we would welcome it—to say that they would like to be integrated schools.

Mr. Barnes

Would it not be a boost for integrated education in Northern Ireland if teacher training colleges provided integrated education? Currently, there is a teachers training college for Catholics, which means that the state system is comprised virtually of Protestants who make use of it. If the problem of teacher training integration was tackled, integration might then spread into primary and secondary education.

Mr. Worthington

My understanding is that the issue was tackled some 10 years ago, but its impact was not integration but disintegration. Colleges are now entering into closer relationships with the university sector, which is to be welcomed.

Mr. Öpik

Given that 80 per cent. of Northern Ireland's parents support integrated schooling for their children, but only 2 to 4 per cent. of schooling is formally integrated, does the Minister agree that there is a job of work to be done to accelerate the process?

Mr. Worthington

As I have already said, integration will be driven by parental demand. If 80 per cent. of the parent population want integrated schools, they should express that by getting involved in a campaign to demand integrated education, rather than saying vaguely that they would like it. If they involve themselves in a campaign and say that they want to send their children to integrated schools, that is what they will achieve.

Mr. Moss

If any of the integrated schools are also prep schools, is the Minister going to hammer them in the same way that he is going to hammer prep school pupils and their parents through his proposal to remove funding? Where does he expect to find the preposterous savings figure of £1.5 million? Does he not realise that if less than half of prep school pupils move to the state primary sector, he will save nothing? If more move, he will face increased costs. Is this new Labour economic ineptitude or old Labour class dogma?

Mr. Worthington

I remind the hon. Gentleman that his Government cut the contribution to prep schools a few years ago. Why, then, is he today questioning our decision to consider a similar proposal?

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