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Integrated schools missing targets on balance of pupils

By Lindsay Fergus

Almost half of Northern Ireland’s integrated schools are failing to meet Department of Education criteria on the percentage of pupils they must have from both traditions.

The Belfast Telegraph has obtained new figures showing that 45% of integrated schools do not have a 30% or more intake of pupils from a minority community.

That means, of the 62 integrated schools here, 28 do not meet the department’s viability criteria on religious balance.

Some integrated schools here have less than 5% of their intake from the minority community — fewer than some state-controlled schools.

That is in stark contrast to a recent Mori poll which indicated 88% of parents in Northern Ireland would send their child to an integrated school.

The statistics for the 2010/11 school year were revealed by Education Minister John O’Dowd in response to an Assembly question from the DUP’s Mervyn Storey, chairman of the education committee.

Mr Storey said: “Clearly the integrated model is not working in terms of its objectives. That’s why the DUP and Peter Robinson repeatedly talk about the real need for shared education.

“We now need to move into a new dispensation which clearly recognises the formal problems of transformation, which has not taken place in any school in the Catholic-maintained sector.

“Many of these schools that transformed within the controlled (attended mostly by Protestant children) sector were all about numbers and not the ethos of integrated education.”

Although no maintained school has ever switched to integrated status, the figures do show that more than half — 35 of the 62 integrated schools — are predominantly attended by children from a Catholic background.

They also reveal that 14 of the schools have practically an even balance of pupils from both the Protestant and Catholic communities.

Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) has welcomed the analysis of the background of pupils attending integrated schools and an open debate on the issue of balance.

Its chief executive Noreen Campbell said: “The aim of integrated education is to educate our young people from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds together and we are committed to achieving the best possible balance to ensure this happens effectively.”

She added: “That all schools which are integrated do not reach this target illustrates the deep divisions which exist at all levels in our society, including housing.”

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