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Only way forward is to overcome the past

By Lindsay Fergus

The parents' view: In other schools things are swept under carpet, we don't want that

They are both only five years old – one is a Protestant and one is a Catholic – and if their parents have their way then they will grow up as friends, benefiting from an early understanding of each others' cultures and beliefs.

Little Caleb Doherty and Charley Stokes are too young to understand the importance of being educated side by side but thanks to the integrated school they both attend, they are already reaping the benefits.

For both their parents, Nadine Doherty, a teacher from Crossgar, and Melanie Harland, a cook from Ballynahinch, integrated education was the first and only choice for their son and daughter, who are in the same Year 1 class at Drumlins Integrated Primary School in Ballynahinch.

Melanie explained: "Because of the way this country is, integrated education was my first choice. I believe everybody should be educated together – Protestant and Catholic."

Working as a Year 2 teacher in Drumlins and married to the vice-principal of Cranmore Integrated Primary in Finaghy, Nadine and her husband William have seen first hand the benefits of integrated education.

"I love seeing how children from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds can play together and have fun. The children grow up in a more tolerant atmosphere," said Nadine.

"In other schools, when issues arise, they are swept under the carpet or the pupils are told to ask someone at home but in this school we tackle the issues. There has never been a question we have not been able to talk about."

Despite Melanie's best efforts, her oldest son, who is 15, missed out on attending an integrated school, which made her all the more determined to get her daughters, Jorja, who is in Year 4, and Charley, into Drumlins.

"There was no integrated school in Ballynahinch so I had tried to get my son into Cedar Integrated Primary in Crossgar but there were not enough spaces so he ended up at St Patrick's Primary School in Ballynahinch.

"When it came to Jorja I was just hoping for the best because there were only 17 places but thankfully she got into Drumlins and so did Charley.

"I notice a difference with my son, whose friends are mainly Catholic, whereas the girls are mixing with everybody and those friendships continue outside the school."

Caleb is loving his first year in school, according to his mum. "He has made a lot of new friends from both sides of the community. There are 30 children in his class and he knows the names of every one of them.

"When I look at my husband's background, which was very segregated, it's so different from Caleb's.

"Integrated education is definitely the way forward. My husband and I both believe integrated education is the way to tackle segregation. If children are not meeting children from other backgrounds in the area they are living, then they need to meet them in school."

Melanie also says Charley has blossomed at Drumlins and skips into school everyday.

"Everybody thinks this is the way forward, to get more children into integrated schools but there is not enough integrated provision," she said.

The principal’s view: We are teaching the children respect right from the word go

By Lindsay Fergus

For the 152 pupils of Drumlins Integrated Primary School, home between 9am and 3pm is seven mobile classrooms located on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Ballynahinch.

And as the Department of Education has been unable to find the school a permanent site, the Lisburn Road location is likely to be their home for the foreseeable future.

Yet for the past six years the integrated school — the only one in the Co Down town — has been oversubscribed, leaving parents who can’t secure a place having to drive to another town or put their child into a segregated school.

Principal Janice Marshall explained: “If ever a school is proof that its popularity is not to do with location or aesthetics, we are it. It’s been very difficult for us to see two lots of Year 7 children make it through our school without having experienced bricks and mortar.”

Nine years ago, parent power opened Drumlins Integrated Primary with 12 pupils. As no site could be found in Ballynahinch the school initially opened on the site of Cedar Integrated Primary School, six miles away in Crossgar. It then moved to a factory in Ballynahinch’s Dromore Street for two and a half years before relocating to its current temporary site.

Mrs Marshall, who has been with Drumlins since it opened, said: “Twelve parents were determined enough to drive to Crossgar every morning and afternoon. They were determined the school was going to open.”

That determination has paid off and today the viable integrated school has a Year 1 enrolment of 30 pupils and, despite the Department having approved a temporary variation to increase its |numbers, it turned eight pupils away last year.

Mrs Marshall believes the popularity of the school is down to its integrated status and the quality of its education. “Our integrated status permeates everything we do, but the most important thing is effective education for our children. Parents want the best for their children — that’s high quality rounded education.

“We do not have fancy buildings, but we do have staff who make the most of every resource.”

So determined is Mrs Marshall to ensure as much of the school budget is committed to the pupils, that the school has no caretaker — the principal empties the bins and brushes the floors herself.

Mrs Marshall, who came from the special school sector, believes integrated education also has an important role to play in shaping pupils.

“They are more tolerant and understanding,” she explained. “Respect is something we work on right from the word go. The children are taught that even if they do not like someone, they do not have to be their best friend but they can still pay them that respect and work through their differences.”

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