Northern Ireland

NI Affairs Committee launches integrated education inquiry

 Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chair Sir Robert Buckland. Picture by UK Parliament/PA
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chair Sir Robert Buckland. Picture by UK Parliament/PA

A Westminster committee is launching an inquiry looking at the north's integrated education sector and its potential to expand.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will examine how the Department of Education plans to implement legislation passed by Stormont last year, which requires it to give more "support" to integrated education.

The legislation was the result of a private members bill brought by Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong.

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Around 7% of the region's pupils are educated in 70 formally integrated schools, including 21 post-primary schools, which aim to mix pupils from Protestant, Catholic and other backgrounds.

Some £111 million of Northern Ireland’s £1.38 billion education budget was spent on integrated education in 2021 but while a number of integrated schools are oversubscribed, many struggle to attract sustainable numbers.

A Lucid Talk poll from earlier this year commissioned by the Integrated Education Fund showed two in three people support integrated education, however, this doesn't translate into practice in terms of parental choice of educational establishment.

The committee's recently-appointed chair Sir Robert Buckland said integrated schools have "public backing and the legislation to support them" but remain "rare".

"In new legislation last year, Stormont committed to the development of integrated education in Northern Ireland," he said. 

"With this new inquiry, we aim to find out what this looks like and establish the policy choices that will face Northern Ireland’s Department for Education as they turn to implementation of their plans."

He said that in the absence of a functioning executive, the committee hoped to "keep the wheels turning on this policy agenda so it can hit the ground running when Stormont returns".

The committee invites evidence submissions on its website up to close of business on January 18.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the inquiry was "timely".

"We need to see resources focused as much as possible on the front line through investing in both pupils and staff. In particular integrated education offers the most effective and sustainable way forward both in breaking down divisions and delivering good outcomes," the North Down MP said. 

"It is crucial to ensure that barriers are removed to integrated education are overcome."