A move by the Education Minister to grant integrated status to a Catholic primary school for the first time could open the way for similar decisions in the future, campaigners hope.
Seaview Primary in Glenarm, Co Antrim, had been under threat of closure, but from September it will become the first Catholic Maintained school to convert after a rapid rise in pupil numbers since a move to integrated status was sought.
The immediate future of the school has now been secured.
Principal Barry Corr said he was “delighted”.
“We educate pupils from all faiths and those that do not identify with any,” Mr Corr said.
“Pupils grow up and learn about what makes them the same and what makes them different in a caring, loving and respectful way.
“We look forward to the exciting challenges from choosing a new school name and uniform to establishing a new school development plan.”
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools’ proposal to close Seaview Primary was rejected by Peter Weir.
The decision was welcomed by Tina Merron, chief executive of the Integrated Education Fund, the independent charity supporting the growth of integrated education.
Ms Merron expressed hope that other schools could now follow Seaview’s path.
“This is a great day for the parents, pupils and the wider school community who have campaigned for a number of years to have an integrated primary school in their village,” she said.
“Seaview took the first steps to become integrated with a parental vote that showed 95% support for the school to go through the process termed ‘transformation’ and so become officially integrated.
“The minister’s decision to approve the Seaview development proposal may provide some optimism for schools still waiting on the minister’s decision.
“Seaview will become the latest in a growing network of integrated primary schools, including Carnlough IPS and Corran IPS in Mid-Antrim, which reflects the growing demand for integrated education in the area.”
There are 65 integrated schools, 25 of which underwent the official process to change their status.
CCMS had voiced concerns over Seaview’s sustainability, but existing schools can change to become formally integrated as part of a process that includes a ballot of parents to find out if a majority favours it.
In their ballot, parents of pupils at Seaview overwhelmingly backed the school’s move to become integrated.
The Education Authority did not back the plans as there is already an integrated primary school in nearby Carnlough.
But the Department of Education said that pupil numbers in Seaview Primary had risen from 42 to 80 in the two years since plans for it to become integrated were first revealed.
In 2020/21 there were 24 Protestant pupils at the school, 34 Catholic pupils, and 22 who identify as ‘other’.
The New Decade, New Approach deal committed the Executive to “support educating children and young people from different backgrounds together in the classroom”.