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Education fund sets target for 100 integrated schools by 2025

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Baroness May Blood, campaign chair of the Integrated Education Fund, with pupils from Drumlins Integrated Primary School as the charity launched its new three-year strategy

Baroness May Blood, campaign chair of the Integrated Education Fund, with pupils from Drumlins Integrated Primary School as the charity launched its new three-year strategy

Baroness May Blood, campaign chair of the Integrated Education Fund, with pupils from Drumlins Integrated Primary School as the charity launched its new three-year strategy

The Integrated Education Fund (IEF) has launched plans to have 100 integrated schools by 2025.

It is part of a three-year strategy designed by the charity, which has been campaigning for greater integration for 20 years.

The sector has come a long way since the first integrated school, Lagan College, opened in 1981 with a handful of pupils and a borrowed mobile classroom.

While the college was the flag-bearer for integrated education, increasing numbers of schools have been following its example in recent years.

Northern Ireland is on course to have 70 integrated schools within months, with Glengormley High School and Bangor Central Nursery School going down this route in September.

The IEF hopes to see even more schools welcoming pupils from the two main faiths on the back of new legislation.

The Integrated Education Bill from Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong was one of the last to be passed at Stormont before the election, despite opposition from unionist parties.

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With a firmer footing on the education ladder established, the IEF has wasted little time in pressing its case for more integration across schools.

Speaking at the launch of the body’s strategy, IEF director Peter Osborne said education should focus on equipping children with the skills they need to flourish in the future.

He added: “Ideally, we do not want to exist. We want integrated education properly supported and funded. Only then will our job be done, but we are not there yet.

“While we can try to change attitudes in the older generation, this is about preparing for a better future, about allowing children to naturally grow into a society free from the division we all put up with in the past.”

It has been a hugely successful year for the IEF, with four schools completing the transformation and another two approved to become integrated in the 2022/23 school year.

Nine further schools have initiated parental ballots to begin the process.

“While the passing of the Integrated Education Act in March was a massive milestone, it is important to underline that this is not the end of the journey,” Mr Osborne said.

“The IEF’s strategy will seek to empower and support parents, schools and local communities who want to see more integrated schooling in Northern Ireland and [want to] support the continued growth of integrated education.

“Figures have shown a disproportionate number of children who picked an integrated school as their first choice remain to be placed for the school year, and 71% of parents in a LucidTalk poll in 2021 believe that integrated schools should be the norm.

“The new aim for the IEF is to create the conditions [needed] to reach 100 integrated schools by 2025.”

The launch, held at the Hinch Distillery in Ballynahinch, was attended by representatives from the worlds of business, politics, education and the community.

IEF campaign chair Baroness May Blood said: “The success of the Integrated Education Bill in Stormont earlier this year made the headlines, but the hard work continues every day.

“No school can transform without the consent of parents or the hard work of teachers, senior staff and governors.

“One hundred schools may have seemed like a pipe dream 40 years ago when Lagan College opened its doors, but we can, and must, work towards an integrated place for every child that wants one.”


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