Northern Ireland news

Fundraising campaign for integrated education sector

Baroness May Blood with Sailesh Vara, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the NIO. Picture by Declan Roughan

INTEGRATED education supporters aim to raise almost £4 million to help increase the number of pupils in unsegregated schools.

The Integration Works for Everybody document has set out targets to ensure 10 per cent of school places will be integrated by 2021.

With government support, it is hoped this can increase to 30 per cent by 2031.

The Integrated Education Fund (IEF) presented its plan at a reception at Stormont House.

A poll carried out this year found 67 per cent of people want more children from Protestant, Catholic, other faith backgrounds and none, educated together in the same schools.

Pre-school children to experience shared education

The IEF said a reformed education system should also ensure that young people, including newcomer and LGBTQ pupils, and those with additional needs, feel confident and welcome in the school environment.

Currently only around 8 per cent of pupils in Northern Ireland go to integrated schools. The IEF said the current system was "divided and costly".

Maintaining separate school systems based on religious or cultural background "comes at a high price for government and many local communities", the plan said.

Having too many schools with too few pupils, it added, can make ineffective and inefficient use of resources.

"More children attending the same schools which respect and celebrate all traditions will help alleviate some of these pressures."

Key areas for change recommended by the IEF include the streamlining of education administration and making inclusivity and diversity awareness a duty of all schools. It also said there should be "positive planning" for integrated education and shared public housing.

Over the next three years, the IEF said it needed to raise £3.6m to support its campaigning and grant-making activities.

This will help it hold workshops and focus group meetings with parents, as well as carrying out further research to measure and demonstrate parental demand.

It also wants to provide a grant programme to support at least 15 schools that are "exploring or starting the journey to integrated status".

IEF campaign chair, Baroness May Blood, said Northern Ireland had no functioning assembly and politics was becoming increasingly polarised.

"Yet for more than 35 years we have had a shining example of how people of all backgrounds, beliefs and traditions can come together to heal division and nurture children - in integrated schools. It's time this was seen throughout our education system," she said.

"The IEF's vision document sets out how we would develop and support a holistic approach which puts children, not institutions, at the heart of education policy and planning. The document represents our commitment to working tirelessly to empower parents, empower schools and advocate for positive change in the education system."

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