Education is a key investment for society as a whole and for the economy in the future. Improving schools will allow us to tackle a divided society and create a prosperous economy. As a result, it is vital decisions are made based on what is best for our children, not what is best for political parties. Currently, Northern Ireland spends more on the school system as a whole than anywhere else in the UK. But less of this makes it through to the frontline than anywhere else. Money is tied up in over administration and the provision of partly empty buildings. Integrated education is a key part of Alliance's plans. We believe integrated education is important because:
- It helps us break down division in Northern Ireland by allowing children from all different backgrounds to learn together.
- It allows us to improve education by standardising quality and allowing us to address inequalities.
- It allows us to re-direct money from empty buildings directly into the classroom.
- We will set a minimum target of 20% of children in integrated education by 2020, backed up by legislation which will make it easier to establish new integrated schools and help other schools to integrate.
Alliance wants to see the creation of a single education system that enables every pupil to develop to their full potential, by assessing needs and abilities fairly and by providing the appropriate high quality education, whether technical, academic or general.
It is vital that decisions are based on what is best for our children and our society rather than based on party political positions. This is why Alliance is calling for an independent root and branch review, led by an international expert who can touch on best practice in education systems elsewhere and who can make recommendations to transform education in Northern Ireland into a sustainable and world-class system.
Terms of reference
This review should include, but not be limited to, the following areas of particular importance:
- Provision of integrated education – every child should have the choice and option of attending an integrated school, instead of being educated separately from their peers.
- Vocational pathways – our education system must be pupil-centred and reflect the learning needs and preferences of every child.
- Post-primary transfer – moving away from testing at age eleven and with a common curriculum until Year 11, we need a clear means by which pupils change school after Primary 7.
- Educational attainment – One of the biggest challenges in the education system is making sure that the benefits of a quality education are available to everyone and that all pupils are supported to achieve.
- Special Educational Needs – adequate and appropriate provision for pupils with Special Educational Needs must be at the heart of our education system.
- Planning and funding - funding must be directed toward educating pupils and assisting teachers rather than maintaining a divided system and an under-utilised school estate.
- Curriculum review – pupils should leave school equipped with the knowledge and skills they require to live and work in the modern world. This includes practical skills, such as first aid, as well as age-appropriate sex and relationship education.
- Careers guidance - quality advice and guidance are fundamental aspects of our education provision and must encompass all pathways.
- Exclusion – teachers and pupils must be supported to ensure full inclusion of all children within the classroom, in so far as possible.
- Teacher training - we must see a rationalisation of the existing fragmented teacher training provision within our education system. Both pupils and teachers should be educated and trained together.