Landmark decisions usher in new era for integration
A series of landmark ministerial decisions have helped usher in new era for the expansion of integrated education, campaigners have said.
So far this year, the education minister has approved the transformation from state controlled to to integrated status of two schools - the first in five years - and the growth of a popular integrated college.
He also rejected a plan to shut down Crumlin Integrated College.
Just months earlier, John O'Dowd was coming under pressure to fulfil his duty to encourage and facilitate the development of the sector. This came after he rejected an expansion bid by Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh and a plan by the Catholic Clintyclay PS in Co Tyrone to transform.
After approving a plan in May to allow Loughries PS in Newtownards to transform, he also gave the green light to Ulidia Integrated College in Carrickfergus to admit more pupils.
Just last week, he approved the expansion of integrated education in two keys areas - Mallusk, by agreeing to a transformation proposal, and Crumlin.
The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) said both decisions were important.
The decision in favour Mallusk, NICIE said, recognised that it was an area which was representative of changing society, an area where there was great diversity, with families from the traditional backgrounds as well as many from a range of other backgrounds - mixed, secular, and different faith.
In deciding to support the continuation of Crumlin Integrated College, NICIE said the minister recognised the significant steps taken by the school to deepen its integrated ethos and to ensure that it was a school which would meet the needs of all children regardless of ability and of background.
"NICIE staff work closely with parent groups and the staff and governors of schools," said chief executive Noreen Campbell.
"We see the commitment which exists to secure an integrated education for the children in the area. We applaud the efforts of schools and parents who work tirelessly to see their children educated together. These decisions vindicate the work and efforts of parents and schools embarking on the journey of transformation."
The latest decisions, she added, also held messages for all involved in area planning.
"It makes sense that educational provision reflects the population of the area, the changing society around us and the wishes of families in the area. NICIE argues that planning for education should now find a mechanism which accurately determines parental preferences for the type of school and which plans the provision of schools around these preferences," Ms Campbell said.
"That way parental choice is protected, meaningful planning becomes possible, and we move away from planning for the past to planning for the future. In doing so, we meet the needs of all children, we are laying the foundations for a cohesive and peaceful society and we can move to a cost effective system of education which will target resources on the classroom rather than on maintaining educational duplication."