THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: Former Ulster MP appeals for experiment in integrated education

From the News Letter, March 29, 1967

Monday, 29th March 2021, 6:00 am
On this day in 1967 the News Letter that a plea that every effort be made to launch a pilot scheme of interdenominational education in Ulster schools had been made previous day by Methodist College teacher and former MP, Mr David Bleakley. Picture: Pacemaker Press
On this day in 1967 the News Letter that a plea that every effort be made to launch a pilot scheme of interdenominational education in Ulster schools had been made previous day by Methodist College teacher and former MP, Mr David Bleakley. Picture: Pacemaker Press

On this day in 1967 the News Letter that a plea that every effort be made to launch a pilot scheme of interdenominational education in Ulster schools had been made previous day by Methodist College teacher and former MP, Mr David Bleakley.

He had been speaking at the two day annual conference of the Northern Ireland Labour Party in Newtownards which had been brought to a close the previous day.

Delegates had been debating the controversial educational document ‘A New Generation’ which suggested campus-style comprehensive schools and the creation of junior colleges and polytechnics.

The document was commended to the conference by executive committee members and Queen’s University lecturer Mr Harry Calvert who had helped draw up the report.

Mr Bleakley said that the report was a reminder that Northern Ireland was a land of missed opportunities with regards to education.

He called on Northern Ireland to be “a pioneer in social experimentation”.

He went on to say: “Adult education is one of the greatest fields in which Northern Ireland could be a great pioneer and it is to the lasting shame of Queen’s University that it has not pioneered in this field.” Mr Bleakely suggested the establishment of an adult education centre – “a sort of local Ruskin College” – in Ireland to which students from Britain and Ireland could come together and “discuss social sciences in a civilised environment”.

He added that the central problem in Northern Ireland was finding a suitable formula which would unify the community where no distinction was to be made between people on the basis of religion.

He said: “Are we to live forever in a segregated community where Protestant child will never meet a Catholic child?”

He concluded: “There are thousands of Protestant and Catholic families today who are now ready to begin experimentation in education if they are allowed to do so.”