Ken Keable reviews A Shared Childhood — the story of the integrated schools in Northern Ireland by Fionnuala O’Connor, Blackstaff Press, £9.99 pbk
SEPARATE SCHOOLING for the two main religious communities in Northern Ireland is a symptom, not the cause of the sectarian problem. Yet integrated schooling could be part of the solution.
This well-written study of the very difficult experience of establishing and running integrated schools over 20 years illuminates the sectarian ideological landscape of the six counties and demonstrates once again that Fionnuala O’Connor is a great observer of the everyday normalities of sectarian thought, conversation and action there.
As a woman of Catholic background from Belfast, married to a Protestant, who has educated her children in integrated schools, she observes both the sectarian landscape, and the integrated schools movement, as an insider.The small integrated schools sector —- only 47 schools to date —- faces great problems and is still not precisely defined.
Many state schools have re-designated themselves as ‘integrated’ without making any real changes, often because their head teachers, governors and staff are so unaware of their own sectarianism that they have no idea how much needs to be done.Many unionists defend the existing set-up by claiming that all state schools are already integrated, since they are open to all.
Yet these schools —- even if re-designated -— provide no Gaelic sports, have few if any Catholic teachers or governors, habitually invite only Protestant clerics and unionist politicians to speech days, display symbols of Britishness everywhere, and permit sectarian remarks by staff and pupils without a thought.
Many Catholic pupils who attend state schools conceal their religion whilst at school, through fear. Based mainly on interviews (often anonymous), this book should be interesting to anyone involved in education as well as to observers of the fast-changing situation in Northern Ireland.
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