THE views of the principal of Enniskillen’s largest Catholic Maintained school have clashed with those of his counterpart in the Integrated sector over comments made by the Council for Catholic Maintain Schools (CCMS) last week.

In a submission to an Assembly inquiry the managing authority for Catholic Maintained schools said the department of Education should stop facilitating the integrated sector, pointing to the fact it commands “only 6.89 per cent of the school age population” in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to the Impartial Reporter this week, the principal of Enniskillen Integrated Primary School, Adele Kerr described her “disappointment” in the “divisive” language used by CCMS.

But just down the road, the principal at Holy Trinity Primary School, Fintan Murphy, says he agrees with CCMS’ comments.

In its submission to the Assembly, CCMS stated that the “time has come for the department to dispense with its statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education.

“If after 30 years the sector has grown to the point where it commands only 6.89 per cent of the school age population in Northern Ireland, the department should evaluate the public appetite for ‘integrated education’ as a sectoral entity, reconsider the ‘statutory duty’ and look to the promotion of other ‘initiatives’ which have a greater chance of making more effective use of limited resources.” Integrated education campaigners reacted furiously to these comments, accusing CCMS of launching an “aggressive attack” on the integrated sector.

And Mrs. Kerr used similar language in her reaction this week.

“I’m really disappointed,” she said, “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but what the CCMS has said makes for really uncomfortable reading. “Rather than an opinion it is an attack. “I thought we had moved on in our society, but these comments are like a throwback. What they have said is potentially divisive. I can’t believe they have come out like this. But in cases like this I always feel somebody for some reason is feeling under threat.” Dissecting the facts and figures quoted by CCMS in their submission, Mrs. Kerr said many integrated schools had not been granted the capacity to grow.

“Approximately 700 children a year across Northern Ireland have to be refused a place in an integrated school,” she said, “In the latest NICIE survey (Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education) 83 per cent of the people surveyed saw integrated education was a vital part of a shared future.” Mrs. Kerr said her school was one of the lucky ones.

Earlier this year Education Minister John O’Dowd announced that Enniskillen Integrated Primary had been approved an increase in its admissions.

As a result the school are now in the pipeline for two additional classrooms on site.

But having previously worked at Belleek Primary School, Mrs. Kerr says she is keen to make clear she has never turned her nose up at the principles of shared education.

“I am passionate about integrated education,” she says, “But we are not saying ‘no, no, no, education, has to be totally integrated’. But if it is shared education, it has to be quality shared education.

“I think I’m passionate about integrated education because it is not only the children who are shaped for the future, but our staff as well.

“Some people think that if they bring their children to an integrated school, their beliefs and identity will be watered down -- what I would say is that they are strengthened.” Mrs. Kerr say she has a good working relationship with local Maintained and Controlled schools.

“I don’t personally believe that the Catholic Maintained schools I work with in County Fermanagh hold the same view as CCMS. I wouldn’t like to think so anyway.

“But maybe I’m being naive in saying that. I would never, nor do I think anybody in the integrated sector would ever attack Catholic Maintained schools in the same way.” A former senior education adviser for CCMS, Mr. Murphy said last week’s statement by CCMS was not an attack on the integrated sector.

“They have simply stated a number of facts which clearly have been interpreted as an attack by some within the sector - they are simply suggesting that life in Northern Ireland has moved on and that other titles and terminology may be more appropriate,” he said.

He agreed that working relationships in Fermanagh and in Enniskillen in particular, were very good between all of the school sectors.

“We at Holy Trinity have worked very closely with Enniskillen Integrated and other schools from the controlled sector on a range of projects. I believe that parental choice should exist and that, for those parents who wish to have it, an Integrated School place should be available.” He said, however, that he was “very surprised” that less than 7 per cent of children in Northern Ireland have made the choice to attend Integrated Schools.

“I would have thought the sector was much larger.” And he agreed with CCMS that there is a need to look again at the DE statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of Integrated Education.

“My position on this is that is derogatory to the other sectors whom this duty implies are a second class, or lesser education.

“The reality is that for many years schools of all sectors were the only places of peace and calm when conflict was raging, often stoked up by politicians of both sides. Then politicians developed this role for DE in the promotion of Integrated Education as if somehow schools had been the problem all along.” Mr. Murphy made clear he fully supported Fermanagh Trust’s Shared Education initiative.

“It is clear such collaboration has huge support across a wide range of schools. We had been involved in a shared education project with Enniskillen Integrated PS, Lisbellaw PS and Jones Memorial PS for a number of years, funded through a Fermanagh Trust programme. This project involved around 1,100 pupils. Unfortunately the funders were not happy with the informal linkages which existed and insisted that the schools enter more formal linkages, again because I feel there was an attempt to move schools from collaboration to more formalised integration. As the schools in the project did not wish to formalise such arrangements disappointingly all four schools had to leave the project removing 1,100 pupils from the programme.

“Part of what I believe CCMS were saying in the statement is that we need to review all of the language around integration, shared education, collaboration etc. and look at what is happening at school level and this can only be a positive thing,” said Mr. Murphy, “I would hope that as our politicians look at such matters they will see that parental choice exists for a range of school types and these choices should continue to exist- without any parent being made to feel that their choice, if it is not for an Integrated School, is a lesser choice.”