A High Court judgment, delivered in May 2014 in Belfast, has far-reaching implications for education planning and delivery in Northern Ireland and represents a significant step forward for the campaign to grow integrated education.
Section 64 of the 1989 Education Order imposes a statutory duty on the Department of Education in Northern Ireland to “encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education” and this is underlined in the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.
A judicial review was brought by Drumragh Integrated College after its development proposal, to increase capacity to meet local demand, was rejected by the Department of Education. The College was supported in this by the IEF and the Public Interest Litigation Support (PILS).
The central argument of the Judicial Review petition was that the commitments made in the 1989 Order regarding the promotion of the integrated education sector had not been followed through by the Stormont Executive.
The judge, Mr Justice Treacy, emphasised the duty of the Executive and ruled that the duty applies specifically to integrated education as a “standalone concept” – ie that it cannot be argued that shared projects, or mixed schools with a “partisan board” or denominational ethos, are the same thing.
The College also argued that the Government had failed to fulfil those commitments when drawing up area plans for the future of education provision in Northern Ireland. The Department had stated, in rejecting the school’s development proposal, that there were empty places in other local second-level schools (of other management types) and so there could be no additional places created at Drumragh IC.
Mr Justice Treacy ruled that the Department of Education ought not to consider applications for growth of the integrated sector in the light of falling numbers in Catholic Maintained and controlled schools. This will no longer be a weighting factor in the decision-making process.
The judge criticised the Department’s planning policy that has been used to determine which schools will remain open, expand, close or amalgamate to meet future demand… the statutory duty must be borne in mind “at all levels, including the strategic” his ruling said.
The strongest outcomes of the case are:
• The Article 64 duty refers to integrated schools alone, not shared or mixed schools.
• The Department of Education has a re-affirmed, statutory duty to fulfil Article 64 of the 1989 Order, which states, ‘It shall be the duty of the Department to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education…’
• The conclusion to be drawn from the judgment is that strategic planning without proper consideration of the need to develop integrated education is no longer an option for the Department.
• Any planning tool – such as the current “needs model” – which conflicts with the duty to integrated education enshrined in Article 64 of the 1989 Act is not fit for purpose.
You can read a summary of the judgment here
The full judgment is here
The IEF has produced a short leaflet outlining the judgment and its significance. Read here
The PILS project made a presentation regarding the judgment and you can access the powerpoint slides here
The Integrated Education Fund, NICIE, APTIS and PILS have formed a committee – the Judicial Review Implementation Group (JIG) to liaise with the Department of Education and influence strategic planning; to monitor the outworking of the judicial review and to keep schools, parents and the wider community informed as to the significance of the judgment and the implications for growth of integrated education. The outcome of the judicial review should give confidence to integrated schools who are considering submitting a development proposal based on demand for places in their area.
Schools will still have to fulfil various criteria when applying to expand or to change to integrated ethos. Agreement cannot be guaranteed. Each development proposal will be unique and advice or support from the JIG will vary according to individual circumstances.
We will upload more information and links to this website as they become available or as developments occur.
IEF (028) 9069 4099
NICIE (028) 9097 2910
PILS (028) 9040 8724
Case study: Drumragh Integrated College
Drumragh Integrated College is a post-primary school catering for young people from 11-19, with approximately 650 students. They are composed of those from the Catholic and Protestant traditions, plus other faiths and none.
The college began life in a former psychiatric hospital but is now housed in a purpose-built school, a light and pleasant place which has however always been too small: 650 students in a building designed for 580. Drumragh IC has been over-subscribed for more than five years, and the reality is that children refused a place at Drumragh are normally forced into a segregated schooling system instead. Therefore the school drew up a development proposal to increase places:
Drumragh’s development proposal and the judicial review process
• March 2012 The Board of Governors of Drumragh IC submits a development proposal to increase enrolment
• October 2012 Department of Education (DE) refuses the proposal
• Dec 2012 Having secured the support of PILS, the College receives pro bono legal opinion from a barrister that it is worth taking action through the courts
• January 2103 Pre-action correspondence begins
• June 2013 judicial review papers lodged
• October 2013 leave hearing
• DE says they will re-take the decision over the Drumragh IC development proposal
• A decision is made to continue with the case on the grounds of public interest
• Leave to proceed with the judicial review is granted
• Jan-March 2014 the case is heard
• 15 May 2014 the judgement is delivered [largely in favour of Drumragh IC?]
• 5 June 2014 the judge hands down an order with the agreement of both parties
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