Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Committee for Education, meeting on Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Peter Weir (Chairperson)
Mrs S Overend (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Craig
Mr C Hazzard
Mr D Kennedy
Mr N McCausland
Ms M McLaughlin
Mr Robin Newton


Ms Eileen Lavery, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Dr Michael Wardlow, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Ms Fiona O'Connell, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
Dr David Russell, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Shared Education Bill: Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I welcome Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission; Eileen Lavery, head of advice and compliance in the Equality Commission; David Russell, deputy director of the Human Rights Commission; and Fiona O'Connell, a researcher for the Human Rights Commission. We have five evidence sessions today. Michael, as chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, you will appreciate the irony in my saying that we are trying to ensure that everybody gets an equal amount of time. So, we are trying to limit each of the sessions to about 40 minutes. If you want to make a short initial presentation, we will then open it up to members.

Dr Michael Wardlow (Equality Commission for Northern Ireland): It will be brief. First, thanks very much for allowing us to come back to make some comments on the Bill. In the past, you have received submissions from us, and we have been in touch with, written to, and engaged with, the Minister since the Bill was launched. I want to say a couple of things about the generalities, and when we come to the questions I will be happy to deal with some of the detail.

Our concerns are still around the definition and the alignment between the Bill and the policy and its outworking. They are still not clearly enough aligned. There is narrowing between the policy and the Bill, which I can talk more about when the questions come. There are also issues for us that move outside this, which are some of the barriers to sharing, and, more importantly, some of the enablers to sharing. There is obviously a concern, therefore, that with the two-year run on this, there could be a lot of tightening of resources and measurements . Let us hope that this is something that we can also talk about.

Specifically, our position has always been that societal mixing, in and of itself, is a good thing. Therefore, we would like to make sure that all schools are on a continuum of travel to share, in as much as they can. We cannot change the location of people's houses or school enrolment patterns. Therefore, for some schools that are juxtaposed with a school of another type, it will be easier to do this. That has demonstrably been the case, which has meant that the artificiality of saying, "You must do x, y and z", has not been there. However, we are saying that this should not be a barrier to all schools actively participating in moving towards the maximising of sharing across all the categories, and the policy makes that clear. So, this is not just about Protestant and Catholic categories or socio-economic categories; it is about all section 75 categories, as arrived at in the policy.

We also are very clear, and have been from day one, that the Department of Education should be the duty bearer. A power is a latent tool that may or may not be used, whereas a duty is an obligation that, through a judicial review and everything else, can be tested, and we know what it looks like. In another life, I was director of integrated education for 15 years. The Department had a duty under the 1989 Order to encourage and facilitate integrated schools. It has the same duty for the Irish language, and we do not see any reason why the Department should not have the duty in this case. In fact, we say it should have that duty.

I have heard departmental representatives in their evidence saying that a power and a duty are, more or less, interchangeable. That is not our view. What you do with the lower level organisations — the other public bodies — is a matter for debate, but we would not want the duty to be abrogated or delegated further down the line from where the duty bearer should be.

We mentioned to the Minister that, from an equality perspective, sharing education has the benefit of advancing equality of opportunity. When you get grammar schools with non-grammar schools, and so-called Protestant schools with Catholic schools and Irish language schools, the mix will put children together with others from backgrounds they might not otherwise have been in contact with.

One of our concerns is whether, under one of the two definitions, two different — in short-hand, Protestant and Catholic — schools, both of which are from areas of socio-economic deprivation, would be able to share under this. The Minister said he did not want to preclude anyone. The difficulty is that the Bill tends to define shared education as, in short-hand, Protestant, Catholic and socio-economic background, and does not seem to include the other groups that the policy aspires to. An aspiration is one thing, but what it says in the Bill is more important, because that leads and makes the aspiration a reality.

There are huge educational, societal and economic benefits for sharing, so I do not need to rehearse them. We also know that all the research from contact theory in the 1940s and 1950s showed that when sharing happens in a good, stable and safe place, people have different views of one another. In fact, more and more research shows a multiplier effect. If I meet David, and we are from different traditions, then his friends are more likely to have an open understanding of my tradition through my contact with him. It works at second, third and fourth hand. Research is now clear that this happens. I do not need to show more of that to you. We know that there are clear experiences out there already, and we know you will hear from Fermanagh and others.

I was on the board that set up shared education at Queen's. I served on that board under George Bain and saw some excellent programmes coming in. I know that the money is running out from the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) and Atlantic Philanthropies (AP), and the danger is that some of the determination may run out as well. Therefore, we need to learn from what is out there. Do not reinvent the wheel but learn from the good practice that is out there. We know that some of those lessons are hard lessons. It is about what works and what does not work. It is about what makes good impact and is good common sense and what gives us the best value for money. More importantly, it focuses for us the importance of measuring what you value and not valuing what you measure, because if the criteria become what we measure, then we have lost this. This is about the societal hole.

We raised a number of other issues in education with the Minister that we believe are attendant to this but still important. For example, we still have separated teacher training. There is the teacher exemption. There is also the patterns of enrolment. For example, there are about 12,000 people in the black and minority ethnic (BME) community in Northern Ireland. Of those, 2,200 are at non-grammar schools and only 200 are at grammar schools. That compares to 40% of the normal population at grammar schools. There is something going in terms of societal mix.

Finally, selection at 11 is another issue that we have raised. I know that it is not germane to today; it is simply to say that it has ramifications for further sharing.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Michael, if we get into selection, there is a fair chance that we will not be constrained to 40 minutes.

Dr Wardlow: Nor would I suggest that we go there. It is simply that we have written to the Minister on a range of attendant issues.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I will get into a couple of questions unless David wants to add anything.

Dr David Russell (Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission): The Human Rights Commission welcomes the Bill. In 2008, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that segregated education was still present in Northern Ireland and called for measures to address it. This Bill goes some way towards meeting the 2008 recommendation. The commission wishes to highlight that human rights law is not prescriptive in how education should be delivered but it makes clear that one of the purposes of education is to promote tolerance, respect, understanding, valuing diversity and friendship, specifically amongst racial, ethnic and religious groups. Whilst we welcome the purpose and objectives of the Bill, our advice provides recommendations that we believe would enhance it.

The legislative definition of shared education in clause 1 references the minimum essential requirements of shared education. That is, the education together of those of different religious beliefs, including reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Catholic children and those experiencing socio-economic deprivation and those who are not, which is secured by working together and the cooperation of two or more relevant providers. The Department's rationale in the explanatory memorandum for not referencing all section 75 groups was that that would set very challenging demands on the mix of children and young people that education settings would be required to meet and that it would have practical implications. In the commission's view, limiting the definition of shared education to two groups on the rationale provided by the Department may not be sufficient to meet the reasonable and objective justification test required by human rights standards.

There is case law from the European Court on these issues. In the case of Thlimmenos v Greece, the court found that the right not to be discriminated against under article 14 is violated when states, without reasonable and objective justification, treat persons differently in analogous situations or fail to treat differently persons whose situations are significantly different. In the case of Stec v the UK, the court has ruled that for difference in treatment to be objective and justified, it must pursue a legitimate aim and there must be a proportionate relationship between the means employed and the aims sought to be realised. Those principles were endorsed in cases concerning de facto ethnic segregation of Roma children in education, namely in DH v Czech Republic and in Oršuš v Croatia. The commission therefore recommends that the definition should include all the groups that are included in the stated aim of the policy.

As Michael said, we note that clause 2 confers a power on the Department and listed arm's-length bodies to encourage and facilitate shared education, and a number of human rights treaties and standards place a duty on the state to promote tolerance and respect for diversity in education, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, all of which have been ratified by the UK Government and are binding upon the Northern Ireland Executive. The current drafting of the clause would limit the Department's power to a discretionary power, and the commission's view, therefore, is that, in respect of the Department of Education, clause 2(1) should be consistent with the existing legislative duty on the Education Authority that will come into force through the Bill.

Dr Wardlow: This will probably come up in questions. We had suggested in the definitions that political opinion should be removed, and we are glad to see that it has been removed. We did say that we do not think that religious belief should be used —

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): It should be more community background, really.

Dr Wardlow: The Fair Employment and Treatment Order defines it by community background, and, when you think of individuals rather than groups and you think of small children, we are still of the view that it should be community background.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I understand that.

There are two issues that I want to probe very quickly. To be fair, they have probably been the main thrust of your evidence. The first is definition — particularly widening it, or including section 75 groups. This is a multi-part question. How do you see this being worked in and then tested in practice? If you include various groups, part of the definition is to act almost as a checklist for funding, with these being the requirements you need to meet. One of the concerns is that, if we had a checklist involving all of the various section 75 groups and if a project were going forward, would it have to demonstrate that it had met all of those requirements? Some would be fairly difficult to monitor. How do you see that working out in practice?

Also related to that is this, and it is more of a question for David: you certainly have a question about whether what is there is reasonable. Do you believe that the definition offered in the Bill complies with human rights?

Dr Russell: In short, no, we do not. This is because of the policy underpinning the Bill. For example, if peace and reconciliation were the stated purposes of shared education, which would be a legitimate aim, there would be grounds, arguably, to restrict it to community background, since the two main communities are the source of conflict. If that were the purpose of the Bill, it probably would be a proportionate restriction on all of the categories covered under the terms of article 14. However, the stated purpose of the Bill, aligned to the policy, is the much broader concept of what sharing is about among a whole variety of groups in society. The Department's justification, subsequently, to narrow it to two groups in the Bill and in the explanatory memorandum is simply saying that it is too challenging to reflect the principles of the policy. The commission does not think that something being too challenging is a reasonable and objective justification for narrowing the Bill.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): How do you see it being implemented in practice? As part of the overall Fresh Start, a certain amount of money will come from Westminster, some of which will be for shared education projects. There will then have to be a test — once any form of money is available from government, a range of people will put in bids for projects. Those will have to be evaluated as to whether they meet the criteria for shared education. From the point of view of definition, it will have to be very practical, because it cannot simply be something in the abstract. How do you see this being drafted, and how do you see it being applied?

Dr Russell: We make a distinction between the duty on the Department to encourage and facilitate shared education in its broadest sense and the subsequent criteria that the Department sets. That is the schools having to meet the criteria. The criteria could be as wide as the Bill, but, as Michael said, it is within the Department's gift to identify —

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Is that not slightly confusing clause 2 with clause 1? I will come to the issue of duty in a moment. If you are producing a definition of shared education, surely that it has to ultimately drive the criteria used in the application of that.

Dr Russell: I understand the conundrum that the Bill poses, but the difficulty is that the Department has already stated in the policy what it understands shared education to be — it is shared education in a much wider sense, both practically and in its purpose, than what we subsequently see transferred into the Bill.

The justification for narrowing it is that it would be too challenging. We all understand that sharing is challenging, but —

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I understand that. I am trying to get my head around the practicalities of this. If you have a definition that, for instance, describes shared education as encompassing all the various section 75 groups — with a possible exception of the political opinion side of it that Michael made reference to — let me just ask you a practical question. To count as shared education, is it a question of ticking at least one of those boxes, in which case there is a dilution, or do you have to effectively show that you are ticking all those boxes, which would be quite a high hurdle?

Dr Russell: That is what I am saying. There is a difference between the duty on the Department to promote shared education across the whole education system in Northern Ireland and the subsequent criteria that a school would have to meet in and of itself as an individual identity.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): No, but with respect, David, the definition will be the driver for the criteria. I am trying to establish whether, if you have a definition that lists, for instance, all the various elements of section 75 as components or prerequisites of shared education or whatever way you want to put it, you then get a situation where, to count as shared education, you have to demonstrate that one or more of those is being met or demonstrate that all of them are being met. I can see problems with either of those positions.

Dr Russell: Yes, and it may well be the former — one or more. To be honest, that is a question that should be asked of the Department because, at the minute, the definition is broad in the policy and narrowed down in the Bill.

Dr Wardlow: Let me take this another way. Let us move away from forensics and ask what we want to achieve. I was 15 years with integrated schools. The prime purpose was to educate together reasonable numbers of Protestants and Catholics. That was the stated purpose. It was objective, and it could be justified and proportionate. Integrated schools at post-primary level had proportionally more children with special needs — about 50% more — as a by-product of the school. There were also lots of children who came from other racial backgrounds as a by-product of the school. You could not argue that they were necessary for funding, but they came as a by-product of the system. In other words, they were desirable and brought a greater benefit to this place that we call home, but they were not essential for the funding.

This Bill seems to say that the essential requirement is to bring Protestants and Catholics and those of different socio-economic groups together. That is the prime driver, the essential criterion and the funding base. Everything else is nice but not essential. That is the way that it is written at the minute. The problem is, if the policy says that our outcome is to have a more fluid, interdependent Northern Ireland where all section 75 groups come together, it is wrong to limit the essential criteria to the top. The Bill is consistent with a policy that says that it is only about Protestants and Catholics in poverty, effectively, but the policy does not say that. The two things are discordant.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): There is a mismatch between the two.

Dr Wardlow: They are discordant. I would not want to limit the policy because the Bill happens to have a narrower focus. It would be much better if the Bill said, "We want to promote the widest possible inclusion." We do not even know what "reasonable numbers" are. That is not known either, but we will come to that.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I want to ask you about one of the other key points that both of you made. I will maybe encourage you by saying that I agree with you about the central thrust of the issue as regards the Department. I appreciate that there was already a duty on the Education Authority; that is fairly clear-cut.

Ms Eileen Lavery (Equality Commission for Northern Ireland): A duty, not a power.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Exactly. Personally speaking, I agree with you on that issue. It is very obvious that there needs to be a duty on the Department rather than simply a power. I was also intrigued by something else, because it is an area where I have not entirely made my mind up yet. I suspect that the list of bodies in clause 2 might expand. The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) has already indicated that it wants to be listed in clause 2. We are hearing that it may be that, if NICIE and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) are listed, the controlled sector's body may want to be listed as well. Michael, you were very clear-cut in your mind about the duty for the Department. You put the issue of a duty or power for arm's-length bodies as open for discussion. Can you give us some of your thinking around that, specifically for the arm's-length bodies? Your position as regards the Department is fairly clear.

Dr Wardlow: Take what responsibilities are devolved from outwith here, like international standards and treaties. The state is the one that has to make sure that those things are compliant through the Assembly. The first point of contact is the Department of Education. Therefore, that is where the duty should sit. That is our view, and I think that the Human Rights Commission is of the same view. It should sit at the first point of contact with the state, and that is the Department. It is a bit like saying to a district council that it has a duty to promote equality of opportunity. It might say, "Actually it is too hard. We are going to delegate that to somebody else. Let Joe Bloggs or a consultancy do it." The Department cannot devolve its duty to someone else, but if the Department decided that it wanted to give NICIE a delegated duty and still audit it against the Department's overall duty to promote this, that would be an internal thing for them to do. I do not think that you could give CCMS the duty to promote shared education, for example. I am sure that it would be uncomfortable with that. I am simply saying that, for us, what is more important is who is the duty holder, and we are clear that it has to be the accountable body, which can be held to account for what it does. If the Department said that it does this by funding NICIE or through the Irish language or whatever, that is more an operational or functional matter. Would that be fair?

Ms Lavery: Yes. Clearly, the Department has the duty; others potentially have the power. If the Department thinks that there should be a duty on others as well, it is for the Department to set that out, but we have not seen that as yet.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I appreciate that what you have said is from an operational point of view. Legally, if the Department has a direct duty, which I fully accept, how from a practical point of view can it then impose a duty on those below it? How would that operate in practice?

Dr Wardlow: Let us take integrated schools. There is a duty on the Department to encourage and facilitate integrated schools. One of the ways that it has always said that it does that is by funding NICIE. The Department says, "We take decisions on policy when they come to us, but we also fund a body to promote integrated schools." NICIE never had a duty. Supposing that the Department said, "We think that part of our duty is better done by you", it can argue that, and therefore, legally, there is a subset of duties that fall to another body. You could make that argument. We are saying that we have not seen it; that is why it is up for discussion. We would not say that there should be a duty, but there should be at the Department.

Dr Russell: First of all, to confirm, we agree totally with what Michael said. Part of the reason is that it is a funnel; the lens through which human rights work. It would seem strange in the extreme, to be quite honest, for the duty from the treaties to funnel down through and bypass the principal element of government — the Department — and go straight to the Education Authority. That is one point.

My other point that the commission has a concern about is that the duty placed on the Education Authority is "to encourage, facilitate and promote shared education". The power that is being proposed for the Department is a power "to encourage and facilitate", absent "to promote". The "promote" element is important in terms of human rights standards.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): You are saying, effectively, that whatever is there for the Education Authority —

Dr Russell: It should be mirrored.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): It should be mirrored within the Department

Mrs Overend: Thank you for coming; it has been a very useful conversation. You mentioned the additional barriers to shared education, such as the fair employment issue. Do you think that should be written into the Bill, or would that be too complicated?

Dr Wardlow: There is a danger with a patchwork approach. Let us take equality legislation. If somebody comes to us and says, "I feel that I have had a discriminatory act", we have to map it against a patchwork of legislation. The absence of a single equality Bill makes things difficult. In education there is a patchwork of legislation that runs all over the place. On the one hand, patchworks are terrible, but at least they are strong and straightforward and have been tested. To now take shared education and add on to it, while taking away the fair employment exclusion for teachers, would not, in my view, be the right way to do it. We would still argue that the exemption should be removed, but there are other things — systemic things to do with where people live, patterns of enrolment, bus patterns, transfer at 11, feeder primaries. All of these mean that, in some cases, young people do not have the same opportunities, say, in the west of Northern Ireland as they do around Belfast, for example. Even accessing grammar-school places is different in one place from another. That is a quirk depending on where you live. If we are saying that every school should try, within its remit, to do as much as it can to share, sharing might look very different in the west or north-east than in east Belfast. We are saying that there are some systemic barriers, but that does not mean that you cannot overcome them.

Ulidia Integrated College in Carrickfergus made five applications before it was approved. It was said that it would never have enough Catholics, but it has 30% Catholics in a town that, according to the last stats, is less than 10% Catholic. So it is possible but it takes time, and that is why the two years is very difficult. This is a journey, and you will often see it taking a full enrolment pattern of seven years if you want a second child to come, or me to say to Eileen, "That is a cracker school to go to", and it happens to be shared. Not everybody chooses integrated or shared schools because they are shared or integrated; it is because they are darn good schools. The focus of this is on providing the best educational environment. If adding on funding for sharing is just to get the funding, it is a non-starter. At the same time, it is necessary for schools to be stretched, and that is where it comes in. We can do what we can to remove some of the barriers in people's heads — and in teacher training as well.

Ms Lavery: If we have learnt anything at all from the Atlantic Philanthropies and International Fund for Ireland work on this — the universities have done substantial work by way of evaluation — it is, most importantly, about the variety of sharing that has gone on. In that respect, to come back to your question as to whether some of these requirements should be in the Bill, my answer is that I think not, because that may restrict the variety that could continue on. Once we have a duty and once we have schools encouraged, facilitated, supported and occasionally funded, you will see a wide variety of work. That is the best that we can see at present.

Dr Wardlow: Let me give you a very practical, current example of that. To set up a brand new integrated school, you need to demonstrate that you have 30% of the minority tradition in the year that you open and that that 30% is likely to grow. If you want to transform an existing 100% Protestant or Catholic school to an integrated school, you need 10% of the intake in the year in which you want to transform. That could be five pupils, so that school is still on a journey over 10 years to becoming a fully integrated school, but we do not rule it out because it only has five pupils in the first year. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The danger in restricting this means that it is going to become a numbers game, which is not what this should be about.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): OK. There are three others, two just on the back of that point. I had better let Nelson in on the basis that I denied him last time round. Danny, do you want to get in quickly?

Mr Kennedy: Very quickly. What is your view on trying to avoid sharing for money's sake as opposed to sharing for sharing's sake?

Dr Wardlow: I have been around long enough, and I was involved in the IFI/AP thing —

Mr Kennedy: By the way, you are all very welcome. [Laughter.]

Dr Wardlow: Thanks very much indeed.

Ms Lavery: We only came up because we got paid for it, you know.

Dr Wardlow: Yes, it is because we got coffee. Actually, we did not.

The bottom line on this is that we know that there will be people who will apply to get money to do programmes because the money is there. However, my experience has been that that has been a low number. My other experience is that once people who have got involved nervously in sharing — from the youth sector, as well as education — see the benefits of diversity, they begin to want to do it. The sad thing is that when the AP and IFI money ran out, for the want of one peripatetic teacher, a lot of those programmes that set out in the early stages of the shared education programme were shut.

This notion that it needs a huge amount of money is wrong; it does not. It can be about a change of a timetable. I talked about enablers earlier; the fact is that you have 23 or 34 learning communities at the moment where sharing still goes on. We have the entitlement framework, within which people are required to. My concern was that it is very difficult for special schools to get into that; that is one of the other issues about the section 75 groups. If you restrict it only to Protestant or Catholic socio-economic groups, how can the special schools that are already having difficulty get to the table?

Dr Russell: I will come in on the back of that. From the Human Rights Commission's perspective, the money question is relatively simple in that the right engaged is the right to education. The right to education should be adequate, accessible and of good quality for all. If it is a money issue that is going to result in that, in terms of a reduction in the number of schools or increasing sharing between schools in order to deliver that educational outcome, then that is human rights-compliant, even though it might fall slightly outside the remit of the Bill.

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: My question is not specifically about this issue. The assertion is that it is non-compliant with human rights legislation. A very direct question would be why that was not picked up in the departmental screening process. You have made a very strong case that the policy has been narrowed in its reflection in the Bill. Why, in your view, was that not picked up before now?

Dr Russell: I have absolutely no idea. The commission engaged with the Department and those with lead responsibility in advance of the Bill being tabled. We gave very similar advice and clearly laid out our concerns at that stage, so you are not hearing anything today that has not been told to the Department in advance.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): Just to pick up on that point slightly — to be fair, it was maybe because I asked you a very direct question. We are not always used to getting a direct answer, which, to be fair, you gave us in that regard. There may have been a slight shift, because I think, in your evidence, you talked about how "it may not meet this" and "it may not be reasonable". You were asked whether you thought it did meet it, and the answer was no. "No, this doesn't meet" is a bit of a shift from, "We are concerned it may not meet" or "may not meet". I know that we are dancing slightly on —

Dr Russell: Let me be absolutely clear: the Human Rights Commission is not a court. The "may" would have to be tested in court, but I am being as open as I can. In our analysis, we have significant concerns that it is a disproportionate limitation because of the stated objective of the policy as opposed to the content of the Bill.

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: On a secondary point, I know that there has been some discussion around the assertion that a duty would actually create a hierarchy. Just deal with the notion that placing a duty would somehow even supersede processes around integrated responsibilities. I know that you touched on it.

Dr Wardlow: I have read some of the evidence, and I know from some of the departmental officials that there was almost a synonym and powers and duties were the same. Absolutely not. I joke and say to a child, "I will put you on the naughty step". That is a power. It is latent. I may or may not use it, but if there was an obligation to do x then you would not have a choice. You would be obliged to.

There will be three concurrent duties to promote shared education, integrated education and Irish-language education. That does not mean that there is a hierarchy in any of that. What it will do is give the Minister a concern, for example, in area A, where two schools come together and say that they want to have a shared project, and a group of parents come forward and say that they would like to school to transform to integrated status. The Minister is going to have to make a decision there, and things like money, priorities, and whether it is proportionate and legitimate come in. It is not simply that, in circumstance A, that is your priority. He or she will have to balance those competing duties, but it is not as if there will be a hierarchy. I know that there is a concern within the integrated sector that a duty on shared education means that the Minister may preference or move with that. If that happened and it was disproportionate, or a decision was taken and the integrated movement or anybody else felt that that was wrong, it could be tested. It is certainly not the intention as I read it. It is simply to bring it up to the others, rather than to have it subservient to —

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I think the other thing is that there would not be that direct clash if there was a duty. If you are talking about shared education, you are essentially talking about arrangements between schools, whereas if you are talking about integrated you are talking about the status of a school. To a large extent, they are slightly different things.

Dr Wardlow: Sure. The other way to look at it — I did not pick it up when Sandra mentioned it earlier — is this enabler. Before I left the integrated movement, we were developing an idea that, if you think of an axis of curriculum and sharing, all schools can move up that curriculum perspective to say that they will make the best of their shared curriculum, bring people in from the outside, use other teachers and learn from other places, even though they may never be in a place where they can meet a Protestant or Catholic. If you then enhance that sharing of the curriculum with sharing with another school, you begin to move along and say, "I share the curriculum and I share my place with other people". Not every school will be able to get to that top quadrant, but it does not mean that they should not try. That is what we need to incentivise: the outcome. You can measure that on grant. It is not as if you are simply saying that you only need 10 Catholics. What outcomes? What success? How are you going to measure it? Unfortunately, that is absent.

Mr McCausland: Thanks for coming today. The submission from the Human Rights Commission refers to a full range of internationally accepted human rights standards and says that the Northern Ireland Executive is subject to those because they are UK commitments. Take the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as two that particularly stand out. We have a situation where we are talking about children from different communities. We are dropping the political and religious aspects. What, in the end, defines communities?

Dr Wardlow: Within the framework?

Mr McCausland: Well, first of all, in terms of shared education. If we are not talking about religious or political background, what are we talking about?

Ms Lavery: If I can be very simplistic, we are saying that if you take, for example, the fair employment legislation, it specifically uses the terminology "religious belief" and "political opinion". When it comes to monitoring — specifically when we come to that question about monitoring — we use the phraseology "community background" because, as we know in Northern Ireland, the level of religiosity is dropping, so many fewer people are personally attached to churches, but they will still see themselves as having either a Protestant community background or a Catholic one. We have made that recommendation consistently through the various iterations. Is that the question you are asking, or are you asking a different one which, perhaps, I am not picking up?

Mr McCausland: How do the communities find expression of their identity? That is really what this is about. They find expression of their identity through their culture. Would that be a fair assessment?

Dr Wardlow: If you are asking what the purpose of this is, it is to try to get people from different religious, political and cultural backgrounds in a catch-all. How do you ensure that you get that mix? The only way you can is to have some form of working definition, and "perceived community background" is a proxy for a range of things. It does not mean that you carry an Irish or British passport, but it is one of the best ways, and fair employment uses community background. Research is fairly clear. People from a Protestant tradition are dropping away from churches and tend not to define themselves in a religious opinion but still would see themselves as from a Protestant community background. If you simply went on religious opinion, you would lose out those people, so I think that culture is absolutely involved, Nelson.

Ms Lavery: One of the things I would say is that, clearly, the majority of employees in Northern Ireland are monitored for fair employment purposes, and I can tell you that still a considerable majority of people, when asked that question about community background, will complete it. Although there is a fall-off in religiosity, we actually see that the majority of people in Northern Ireland continue to complete that question.

Mr McCausland: We have brought the word "cultural" into it, then, which brings me back to David there. What has the Human Rights Commission done to monitor the compliance of the Department of Education in meeting the cultural rights of the children in different sectors?

Dr Russell: That is a big question, Nelson. I would have to go away and look at it. We have not done anything specific on it, but we have monitored educational provision in terms of our reporting duties to the UN. I am more than happy to look at that in more detail, and get back to you.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): We are a bit tight for time. If you do not have a specific answer to hand on that, can we get something in writing for next week in relation to that question? I have one other question that I would like to ask at the end. If members ask for a written response, it will save time.

Dr Russell: Can I just come back on the "community background" question that Nelson originally asked? The purpose of the Bill, in part, under the terms of the policy, is equality of opportunity, good relations, equality of identity, respect for diversity and community cohesion. The language of "community background" is not the language of human rights standards, but it may encapsulate a number of different identity groups in the local context. However, under the treaties that you asked a specific question on, it is absolutely clear as to what tolerance and mutual respect — in terms of educational provision — should be doing on a group basis. It should be focused on combating discrimination among specific groups, including racism, racial discrimination, gender, persons with disabilities, sexual orientation and socio-economic background. We have laid out the references at paragraph 14 of the commission's submission.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): OK. I will ask you one other question, but I do not want an oral answer because I appreciate that we are tight for time. It may also be a no, which, to be fair, would help to facilitate Nelson as well. I know that, in the first session, Nelson, you were the only person to whom I had to say, "Shut up, do not ask a question". However, there may be a couple of bits where, because we are very tight with time, you may want to feed to the Clerk any other specific issues you want to raise to get a written answer.

There is one issue that I would like a written answer on from you for next week. One of our witnesses last week raised the issue of proportions rather than numbers. Can we get your views in writing on the reference to "reasonable numbers" in the Bill? I suppose that it is about both terms — "reasonable" and "numbers"— and how you see that being defined. I appreciate that there may not be any other way of getting around that if it is a test; however, I can see —

Dr Wardlow: Let us come back to you. The only question that we have to leave with you is how we measure socio-economic. Is it through the proxy of free school meals (FSM), in which case there is a notion that those of the Protestant tradition are less likely to define themselves?

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I understand that.

Dr Wardlow: There is a question for us about how you capture that.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I understand that. Can you get back to us on that? It may not be a phrase that has been used before, but can you state, from an equality or human rights point of view, whether there has been explanation, whether you have any understanding from a legal point of view or, indeed —

Dr Wardlow: The only thing that I know is that, in the integrated sector, it became the Department of Education's duty under its written instruction. That is how they got around it, which was compliant.

The Chairperson (Mr Weir): I understand that. We are very tight for time. Rather than getting into that now, it would be helpful if you could provide a written answer to us for next week.

Folks, thanks very much for your evidence. It has been extremely useful.

The Committee Clerk has indicated that it may be useful for us to get a response on the specific issue that has been raised about the compliance or otherwise of the legislation from a human rights point of view. That is not for you. The Department is coming to us next week. It may be useful if we can raise that with them so that they have an answer ready for us. OK. Thank you.

Dr Wardlow: Thanks for the opportunity. Danny, thank you for the welcome.

Find Your MLA


Locate your local MLA.

Find MLA

News and Media Centre


Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly


Keep up to date with what’s happening at the Assem

Find out more



Enter your email address to keep up to date.

Sign up