Northern Ireland

Concerns raised about progress of integrated education made by Stormont department

The Department of Education says ‘considerable progress’ had been made in relation to the Integrated Education Act

Integrated education
The Integrated Education Fund said it has a 'number of immediate concerns' (Getty Images)

A lack of funding for integrated education and a failure by the Department of Education (DE) to recognise evidence from parental ballots are among concerns cited by an organisation representing the sector.

It comes after DE said “considerable progress” had been made in relation to the implementation of the Integrated Education Act.

The department also said it had “taken significant steps towards encouraging, facilitating and supporting integrated education”.

The comments are contained in its first report on the sector, as required by the Integrated Education Act, which was passed two years ago.

Known as the Section 10 Report, it provides an overview of the progress made in supporting the development of integrated education.

But the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) said it has a “number of immediate concerns” about the progress.

“Firstly, the definition and outworking of assessing parental demand for integrated education would appear to be inadequate,” a spokeswoman said.

“The IEF appreciates the complexities of measuring such demand and hence why it commissioned ARK (Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University) to produce an independent assessment of this critical issue.

“However, whilst the report refers to some ways demand might be assessed, it fails to recognise demonstrable evidence from the democratic parental ballot process, which is currently the sole means by which a school can start the process of transformation to integrated status.”

Since 2019, 26 positive parental ballots have been held on integrated status by schools, which have been overseen by DE.

“The result of a parental ballot provides clear evidence of expression of support for integrated education from parents who did not send their child/children to an integrated school,” the spokeswoman added.

“When parents are given an opportunity to vote, secretly and democratically, then the evidence would suggest that a majority of parents are usually in favour and often at a per cent higher than societal surveys would suggest.

“The IEF appreciates there will be local context in each individual ballot, but surely such evidence demonstrates that there is a level of demand for integrated education beyond existing integrated schools and admission preference data.”

Ministers have been warned against the move
There are more than 27,000 pupils enrolled in 71 integrated schools in Northern Ireland

The IEF also highlighted “only £50,000 has been allocated as additional funding to support the actions identified within the report”.

“This level of funding seems wholly inadequate to deliver an effective strategy and action plan,” said the spokeswoman.

The IEF also said the report “contains none of the suggested benchmarks included in the Act itself”, which include the number of development proposals, school transformations or new integrated schools being established.

“The IEF will continue to press for the full implementation of the Act to further the growth and development of integrated education,” she said.

A DE spokesman said numbers accessing integrated education continues to grow, with over 27,000 pupils enrolled in 71 integrated schools.

“That is over 6,000 additional places in the last 10 years, illustrating the department’s continuing commitment to supporting the growth of Integrated education,” he said.

“The S10 report contains a detailed analysis of demand and indicators and measures to support the development of integrated education.

“The department provides a range of bespoke investment to support the development of integrated education, including funding for the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education and to provide accommodation and funding to create new school places in integrated schools.”