A recent LucidTalk opinion poll, commissioned by the IEF, clearly showed an appetite for rationalising school provision as a way of tackling financial problems. A representative sample of 1,094 people across NI was asked to prioritise a list of actions which might be taken in the face of pressures on the education budget. As the table below shows amalgamating schools, including cross-sectoral mergers, was the most popular choice across all demographic groups.

In another piece of research, a cross-party panel of MLAs was questioned by LucidTalk researchers late last year and asked for their views on systemic and structural reform of the education service. Replies included comments such as “The structure is overly fragmented”, “There is a lot of waste at the moment; we need one system that is efficient”, “Reform has the potential to save money” and “There needs to be one state education system…”

Sam Fitzsimmons of the IEF said: “A single system of common schools surely makes economic and social sense. President Obama on his latest visit to London commented that integrated education is a real symbol of progress towards a normalised community in Northern Ireland. Many of the political parties seem to be coming round to that point of view; now following the NI Assembly election we need to see political leaders with the will to turn words into deeds and deliver progress.”

This article was collated by Bill White, Managing Director of Belfast polling and market research company LucidTalk, with assistance from the Integrated Education Fund (IEF).