The IEF is needed because the government does not adequately plan for the development of integrated education.
The Fund draws its mandate from parents and schools wanting an integrated education. Over the past 20 years successive independent polls have demonstrated strong civic support for integrated education – in 2013 over 79% of those polled would support their school becoming integrated (LucidTalk, Attitudinal Survey, February 2013).
The contribution of integrated education to a more reconciled society was also enshrined in legislation in the 1989 Education Reform Order and furthermore in 1998 with the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, an Agreement endorsed by the majority of citizens in Northern Ireland.
Therefore the government also needs to be held to account for its legal obligation to encourage and facilitate integrated education, as well as respond to evidence indicating a clear community desire for change.
Closing the gap
The gap between expressed citizen demand and the current supply of integrated school places must be removed. The IEF has a proven track record in levering government funding for integrated education by taking the financial risk and standing behind parents and schools who are continually asked to ‘prove themselves’ in advance of full government support.
The government needs to adequately plan for the development of integrated schools and remove obstacles to growth.
• Northern Ireland educates its children separately, both by religious background and ability.
• Approximately 90% of pupils from Protestant and Catholic families remain in schools that largely or exclusively educate only one side of the community.
• There is also a largely separate system of teacher training.
• Consequently, pupil interactions are mostly with peers, teachers and others from their own community, with limited engagement with other beliefs and attitudes.
Sixty-two schools are now formally integrated and there are a small number of other schools with a significant religious mix. However, some integrated schools are oversubscribed and in many areas there is no integrated provision at all which is simply unacceptable. Without significant change the vast majority of parents will never have the opportunity for their children to be educated together.