Belfast Telegraph

Powerhouse of integrated education in NI passes away

Obituary

One of the pioneers of the integrated education movement in Northern Ireland has died.

In 1969, Elizabeth (Bettie) Benton met Thelma Sheil when their children were attending Ballyholme Primary School in Bangor and they began discussing the idea of educating Catholic and Protestant children together.

The idea stuck with the pair and in 1974 they, along with eight other parents, became the founding members of All Children Together - and even designed a logo for the organisation.

That year she wrote: "I don't think we can talk about peace and reconciliation without talking about our children.

"They are our hope for the future - our citizens of tomorrow. But how can we become one community, one people, when our children continue to grow up separately as well as being educated separately?

"We believe that children should mix together when the parents desire it, and where better than in schools?"

It was a long struggle to achieve their dream with the Catholic Church and many unionists opposed to integration.

In 1981, the group saw the realisation of their hopes when the first 28 Catholic and Protestant 11-year-olds walked through the doors of Lagan College, the province's first integrated school.

It had one teacher and five part-time members of staff working in a former scout hut.

For several years the parents and supporters had to find funding for the school until finally the Department of Education included integrated education in its budget. Currently there are 62 integrated schools in the province, 22 of them existing schools which changed their status.

Elizabeth's work with All Children Together was rewarded with an OBE in 1990.

Mrs Benton, who died in a Bangor nursing home, is survived by her two sons, Michael and Stephen.

Her funeral will take place at Roselawn Crematorium next Friday, August 11.

Belfast Telegraph

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