Two-thirds of parents in the Belfast area support an eight-fold increase in the number of integrated primary school places.
According to a new poll published today, there are currently just 1,076 integrated primary spaces in four schools within the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) despite parental demand for more integrated provision.
The research found that two-thirds of parents support increasing the volume of integrated primary places in the BELB area from 4% of the overall sector to 33%.
Other key findings of the survey, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), were:
* 84% of parents think that integrated education is important in promoting respect and understanding;
* 83% think it is a vital part of creating a shared future in Northern Ireland;
* 82% think it is vital in breaking down barriers between Catholics and Protestants;
* 72% believe that funding for integrated education should be prioritised with enough places available for those who wish to send their children to an integrated school.
The survey shows that parents' opinions reflect those expressed by US President Barack Obama during his visit to Northern Ireland last week.
"President Obama threw down a gauntlet to the young people of Belfast, urging them to take the steps necessary to secure a shared and peaceful society by moving beyond segregated housing and segregated education," said Noreen Campbell (below), CEO of NICIE.
"This survey shows overwhelming support for NICIE's proposals to increase the volume of integrated primary school places in the BELB area from 4% to 33% even though this will mean an offset reduction in places in the controlled and maintained sectors that might impact on their own local schools."
The poll was commissioned in response to BELB's public consultation on the draft area plans for the future of primary school provision.
The results indicate that parents are supportive of integrated education but are opting to send their children to schools in the controlled and Catholic maintained sector because of convenience.
If the controlled or maintained school their children currently attends was to be transformed into an integrated primary school, 88% of parents would keep their children at the same school.
Only 14% of parents not choosing an integrated primary do so because they prefer a faith-based school.
And 52% feel geographical inconvenience is the greatest barrier.
The telephone survey of 400 parents of children aged under 12 living in the BELB area was conducted by Millward Brown between June 4-14. 62% of Protestant households had children in the controlled sector, 5% in the Catholic maintained, 13% integrated and none in the Irish medium. In Catholic households 85% of children attend schools in the maintained sector, 2% controlled, 6% integrated and 6% Irish medium. In mixed households figures show 23% in the controlled sector, 28% in the Catholic maintained sector, 23% integrated and 1% Irish medium.