Belfast Telegraph

Diverse nursery is ready to go 'one step further' with official integrated status

Victoria McGimpsey with children at Belfast’s Brefne Nursery School
Victoria McGimpsey with children at Belfast’s Brefne Nursery School
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

The principal of Brefne Nursery School has said it is "a fantastic step forward" after it emerged the pre-school unit will become officially integrated in September 2021.

Victoria McGimpsey, whose four-year-old son Charlie attends the standalone facility in north Belfast, said Brefne has been welcoming children of all backgrounds for over 50 years.

And she said the school board recently balloted parents because they were keen to "strengthen and promote the inclusive ethos that already exists in the nursery" and become officially integrated.

Following a vote that secured over 92% support for integration, Mrs McGimpsey said that when the school acquires its new integrated status it will be a rubber-stamping exercise.

"In terms of pupils, we're pretty close to having 40% Catholic, 40% Protestant and 20% other at present, so it'll be great to have official recognition for that," she said.

"We are inclusive of all. That's the essence of our classroom and I very much see this as taking what we already do naturally one step further.

"This is an exciting new chapter and we look forward to the prospect of becoming the first standalone integrated nursery school in Belfast and one of the first in Northern Ireland."

Mrs McGimpsey - who is a teaching principal - and a teaching assistant look after the single-unit nursery at Salisbury Avenue, which caters for 26 pre-school children aged three and four every year.

The Newtownards mother-of-two also has an 18-month-old son Sam with husband Steven (34), who works in property, and she said she hopes that when the time comes Sam, too, will spend his pre-school year at Brefne.

"It's a great school and as both a principal and parent I'm so happy all the hard work paid off to allow us to do this, and it's great that the other parents have told me they're delighted too," she said.

"Brefne has always welcomed children from all backgrounds and religions, supporting our ethos of 'Every child's uniqueness catered for'. This official step towards transforming into an integrated nursery demonstrates the support we have from the community."

The NI Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) and the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) will support Brefne Nursery School as it progresses towards a development proposal for transformation to be considered by the Education Authority and the Department of Education.

The ballot in support of integration at Brefne Nursery School follows similar votes this year at Carrickfergus Central Primary School, Bangor Central Nursery School, Harding Memorial Primary School in Belfast, Ballyhackett Primary School in Castlerock, and Seaview Primary School in Glenarm.

Roisin Marshall, chief executive of NICIE, said Brefne "has taken a huge step in support of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland by choosing to proactively develop their integrated ethos, starting with the legal process of transformation to integrated status".

She added: "This journey, which has started with a very positive ballot, will give parents an opportunity to have an integrated choice in that area right from the start of their child's educational career."

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