Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Government backs segregated schools

Good news from Northern Ireland. Two new integrated schools - Rowallane Integrated College and Clogher Valley Primary School - have opened.

I am not someone who gets angry about faith schools. In particular, the idea that the average Church of England primary school is engaged in a sinister programme of religious indoctrination seems ridiculous to me. But it hard to disagree with the argument that Northern Ireland could do with less segregation in its schools.

So a victory for state education then? Not a bit of it, reports the BBC:
The schools are opening despite the Department of Education's decision to refuse them funding earlier this year. 
Two other integrated schools were also refused funding by the education minister at the time, Angela Smith. 
Ms Smith said the new schools were turned down because they were proposed for areas which already had surplus capacity.
There are several lessons for Liberal Democrats to learn here.

First, if you give the state a monopoly over innovation in education, you are likely to end up with a sclerotic system. Fortunately, in this case the Integrated Education Fund stepped in to provide funding: £500,000 for Rowallane and £250,000 for Clogher Valley.

Second, we tend to distrust independent initiatives in education. But here is a clear case where what is proposed is more Liberal and more enlightened than the state-backed alternative.

Third, the policy of not allowing new school in areas where there is surplus capacity is ludicrous. Surplus capacity will tend to exist in areas where the schools are bad, because parents there are more likely to pay to send their children to independent schools or to make more effort to work the state system to get them into schools further away.

As things stand, the government will allow new schools only in areas where parents are perfectly happy with the existing provision.

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