Facing History – Northern Ireland and Integrated Education

On the Facing History’s online forum on Northern Ireland and integrated education, Detris Anderson asked me, “What is the government’s responsibility in integrating the schools?”:

The Government in Northern Ireland does not initiate the creation of any new integrated school (nor the transformation of any existing school to become integrated). Instead, the process is started by a group of parents or individuals who first form a Parent Steering Group, which then lobbies for the establishment of an integrated school. All integrated schools in Northern Ireland have been created this way.

The Government at first did not provide any financial support to integrated schools. Government now provides for teachers’ salaries and school equipment, but integrated schools still have to find their own money to buy a site and construct the buildings. Government provides capital funding after three years of the school’s establishment.

The Alliance Party (my employer) has pledged in its election manifesto to the Northern Ireland Assembly to place a duty upon local Education and Library Boards to encourage, not merely to facilitate, the development of integrated education. Alliance would also reform and relax the criteria for the creation and maintenance of integrated schools.

The barriers to the creation and development of integrated education in Northern Ireland, especially considering its deeply divided society, may come as a surprise for all those on this forum who support its merits. It frustrated the American Consul General for Northern Ireland, Barbara Stephenson, who broke protocol and spoke out on this issue recently:

Speaking yesterday as she opened a pre-school facility at Forge Integrated Primary in Belfast, the US Consul General [Barbara Stephenson] described herself as “a passionate friend and ardent supporter” of integrated education. But, in a break with protocol, she expressed her views on the integrated system here, saying parents faced a “staggering hurdle” compared to her experience at home in America. … “It is so hard to believe that the default is still set on a Protestant school and Catholic school rather than an integrated school and that you actually have to prove your case to open an integrated school. It is mind-boggling from an American perspective.”

The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) is a voluntary organisation that serves as an umbrella group for all integrated schools. They also support those who wish to establish an integrated school. I would encourage all readers of this forum to visit the websites of NICIE as well as the Integrated Education Fund (you can even make a donation if you wish!).

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