Twenty-five years ago, a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate integrated education was placed on the Department of Education.
That was a significant milestone in the recognition and development of integrated education. The decision of Judge Treacy in this judicial review is potentially just as significant.
This judgment reminds the Department of Education of the need to implement the statutory duty at all levels including the strategic one. In doing so, it opens the way to connecting public support and parental demand for integrated education with meaningful changes at school and area level across Northern Ireland.
This judgment notes that the "needs model" that underpins area-based planning creates an additional barrier to the expansion of integrated education. NICIE (Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education) has long argued that area-based planning is deeply flawed.
We have argued, through area-based planning, that parental choice for integrated education should be respected and met; that there should be an integrated choice in every area and that where there are proposals for changing or closing schools, these proposals should offer a full choice to parents – they should not simply be changes within sectors. Consultation with parents should be a meaningful process that provides full information on what is meant by the various types of education, allowing them to shape the education best suited to their area. These are the changes we hope to see as an outcome of this judgment.
All involved in integrated education will be well pleased with the judge's recognition of integrated education as the education of Catholic and Protestant children together in one school. He said: "Integrated education must be the service of imparting knowledge to young people from all backgrounds as equals."
This is exactly what integrated schools strive to do; this is what the public understands integrated education to mean. It is our hope that we will now be able to move rapidly towards expanding integrated provision.
- Noreen Campbell is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education