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Liam Neeson backs campaign for parents to push for integrated education

By Claire O'Boyle

Liam Neeson is on a mission to let parents across Northern Ireland know they have the power to push their children's schools towards integration.

In a video backing the Integrate My School - I'm In campaign launched today, the Ballymena star said: "We look to our children for the future, so why do we continue to educate them apart, different religions, different backgrounds, different schools? There is another way.

"Most people agree that educating children together is a better way forward for our society. It's time to turn our aspiration into reality, to believe in your children and believe in their future."

At the heart of the campaign is the message that mums and dads have the power to trigger a move to integrated education if that is what they want for their children.

Government policy already supports this, but not enough people know the power they have, campaigners claim.

In fact, if one in five parents at a school expresses an interest in integration, the board of governors is compelled to put the issue to the whole school for consultation.

Tina Merron, CEO of the Integrated Education Fund, said: "Research has repeatedly revealed that a majority of Northern Ireland parents want their school to become integrated.

"When it comes to making it happen, however, what many people don't know is that integration is supported by the Department for Education and government policy.

"As a support mechanism, the campaign website, www.integratemyschool.com will let parents of primary and post-primary children register their interest. This is not an overnight process and schools can only transform to integrated status with parental approval and parental involvement.

"But this online registration is a very important first step in showing the interest of the school community, in complete confidentiality and without prejudice. A strong expression of interest from enough parents at a school means there is the momentum to drive the school to the next stage."

Helen Hamilton, formerly Helen Farrimond, who has been behind integrated schools since the early days, said this was the perfect time for parents to get involved. "The policymakers, the politicians, are not doing their bit on this... they are not in tune with the people," she added.

"We are in a disastrous political situation and the two parties who were in the executive have not worked for what the people want - that is diversity and the integration of cultures

"It's time for parents to say, 'This isn't good enough, I want the best for my children, for their education and future'. The integrated movement started from the grassroots, and this is their opportunity to take the reins."

The IntegrateMySchool website features video instructions on the three-step registration process. All Northern Ireland primary and post-primary schools are listed alphabetically, and through a search tool parents find their child's school, fill in a confidential form to submit their details and then click on a link to receive an email in order to verify their identity and prevent spamming.

Of the 65 integrated schools across Northern Ireland, 25 were transformed thanks to the support of parents. The first, Lagan College, opened in 1981 with just 26 pupils. Today, more than 22,000 children are in integrated education at nursery, primary and post-primary levels.

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