A Northern Ireland union leader has criticised the Government's decision to approve four new integrated schools in the province because he claims they will put teachers' jobs in other schools at risk.
The schools, which take in pupils from both the Catholic and Protestant communities, will "impinge on the security of the tenure" of teachers in the other sectors, David Allen, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union (which represents mainly Protestant teachers) told MPs.
In his letter he said schooling was already being "rationalised" leading to teacher redundancies: "Furthermore, the capital funding of integrated schools undoubtedly decreases the resources available for the capital building so necessary in the maintained (Catholic) and controlled (Protestant) sectors. . . The payment of travelling expenses to facilitate paternal choice in the integrated sector is a further imposition of the public purse."
While other unions may privately share his concern that integrated schools have an unfair advantage and may affect jobs in the other sectors, where closure and amalgamations have been already caused by falling rolls, they would not make such a trenchant public statement.
The four schools are in Carrickfergus, where William of Orange landed in 1689, Omagh, Loughbrickland and Crossgar, a few miles from Downpatrick, the seat of St Patrick, and bring the total number of integrated schools across the province to 27, catering for only 2 per cent of the school population.
The Department of Education in Northern Ireland did however, for the first time, refuse to give the go-ahead for one other integrated secondary school.
Despite its legal requirement to encourage and facilitate the development of mixed religion education, it said it was unable to approve the plans for the school in Dungannon in Mid-Ulster, 40 miles from Belfast.
Parents intend to fight the department's decision over Dungannon, and have said the school will be opening in September regardless.
They say the decision was based on out-of-date figures. "We are taking legal advice on this matter and in the meantime proceeding with the acquisition of the site as well as appointing staff and enrolling children," said a spokesman.
Education minister Michael Ancram had said he was not satisfied the school would attract reasonable numbers of both Catholic and Protestant pupils.