Integrated education ruling sets things straight for the good of all
In a society that is scarred and struggling toward real peace, indeed where young people are arranging sectarian battles on Facebook, it seems completely obvious that they should be educated together – all day, every day.
A central goal of integrated education is the transformation of young people's hearts and minds. This is achieved by actively helping them to respect difference and encouraging them to form friendships that break down barriers. It's not always easy, but it matters. And so we shape a future that includes tolerance, peace and healing.
The ruling by Judge Treacy re-emphasises the importance of this vision. Somehow a vital definition of integration was being blurred. Somehow the urgency of encouraging integrated education was being sidelined. Somehow the huge, positive potential of integration was being wasted. This ruling sets things straight, for the good of us all. I am delighted that our voice has been heard, that sense has prevailed, and am convinced that this promises well for the future.
This ruling offers clarity in several important ways. For example, it affirms that integrated schools educate young people "from all backgrounds as equals", and that they must be "integrated throughout". Nothing less will do, nor will it qualify as integration.
The ruling also reminds the Department of Education of its "need to be alive" to its duty to facilitate and encourage integrated education "at all levels, including the strategic level". In other words, there is a legal duty to promote integration in our education system. This includes planning for the future. And for good reason.
Let me be clear. This ruling creates hope. It is not a victory over anyone, it is a victory for everyone. This is, quite simply, great news.
I am deeply grateful to the Integrated Education Fund, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, the Public Interest Litigation Society and our excellent barrister, to the staff, students, parents and governors of Drumragh Integrated College, and to the MLAs who have supported us in this journey.
Here's to the future.
- Nigel Frith is the principal of Drumragh Integrated College