The Integrated Education Foundation (IEF) has launched ambitious new plans to have 100 integrated schools in Northern Ireland by 2025.
It’s all part of a new three-year strategy for the charity, which has been campaigning for greater integration into education over the past 20 years.
Northern Ireland will have 70 integrated schools by September, a sector that has come a long way since the founding of the first, Lagan College, in 1981, when just a few students were in a rented mobile classroom.
And although Lagan College is the flagship of integrated education, more and more schools are turning to this sector in recent years.
Two more will be merged in September, with Glengormley High School and Bangor Central Nursery being the last to succeed in the transformation, and the IEF wants this process to gain momentum with new legislation in Stormont.
The Integrated Education Act from the MLA Kelly Armstrong was one of the last to be passed in Stormont ahead of the Assembly elections, despite the opposition of the union parties.
And with a firmer footing on the educational ladder, the IEF has spent little time pushing for a growing need for further integration in the classroom.
Speaking at the presentation of the strategy, IEF Director Peter Osborne said that the focus should be on the development of future generations.
“Ideally, we don’t want to exist,” he said. “We want integrated education to be properly supported and funded. Only then will our work be done. But we’re not there yet.
“While we may try to change the attitudes of the older generation, it is about preparing for a better future, about allowing children to naturally grow up in a society free of the divisions we have all put up with in the past.”
It has been a hugely successful year for the IEF with four new schools completing the transformation process and two more approved for integration in the 2022/23 school year. Nine more schools have initiated a parent vote to start their own process.
“While the adoption of the Integrated Education Law in March was an important milestone, it is important to emphasize that this is not the end of the road,” he added.
“The new IEF strategy will aim to empower and support parents, schools and communities who want to see more integrated schooling in Northern Ireland and support the continued growth of integrated education.”
“Recent data has shown that a disproportionate number of children who choose an integrated school as their first choice are yet to be placed in the 2022/23 school year.
“And 71% of parents in a 2021 LucidTalk survey think integrated schools should be the norm. The new goal of the IEF is to create the conditions for achieving 100 integrated schools by 2025,” he said, reinforcing the message of a strong and growing push for integration in schools.
Launch held at Hinch The distillery in Ballynahinch was visited by representatives of the world of business, politics, education and society.
Baroness May Blood, IEF Campaign Chair, added: “The success of the Stormont Integrated Education Act made headlines earlier this year, but the hard work continues every day.
“No school can transform without parental consent or the hard work of teachers, senior staff and managers.
“A hundred schools may have seemed like a pipe dream 40 years ago when Lagan College first opened its doors, but we can and must work to create an integrated place for every child who wants it.”