Growing Integrated Education: Perseverance, partnership and philanthropy
The recent announcement by the UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, that HM Treasury would invest a further £66 million in capital infrastructure for mainly integrated schools in Northern Ireland is a triumph of perseverance, partnership and philanthropy. Such things do not happen by accident – it takes years and years of hard effort from parents, schools, supporters and charitable organisations, to achieve.
It takes perseverance because integrated schools in Northern Ireland are not started by government but by the determined work of parents and schools on the ground. No government department ever plans for an integrated school – parents either come together in a local community to open a new school where none currently exists or parents vote through a democratic ballot to change the status of their existing school (a process called transformation). This bottom-up activism has faced many obstacles and challenges along the way. For almost four decades, campaigners for integrated schools have faced either resistance or apathy from most politicians, seemingly keen to preserve a religiously and culturally divided education system. And all this is despite a commitment in the Good Friday Agreement, and in law, that integrated education is ‘encouraged and facilitated’.
The school chosen by the Chancellor to make his announcement, Rowandale Integrated Primary School in Moira, is a perfect example of how parents, staff and governors have worked against all odds to succeed. Each year since 2007 Rowandale has needed extra accommodation just to have the space to educate the growing number of pupils choosing the town’s only integrated primary school.
It takes partnership because integrated schools work closely with not only their parents and their local community but also with the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), a charity, and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), a non-departmental public body. NICIE provides support and guidance to integrated schools to help them on their various stages of development. Setting up a new school, or even transforming an existing school, are daunting tasks without such expertise to call on. NICIE also helps integrated schools to submit appropriate Development Proposals to the Department of Education in a bid to help them secure approval to grow and develop. There have been 26 such Development Proposals approved in the past four years with 1,400 extra integrated school places created in the last year alone. The close working relationship of NICIE and the IEF has strengthened an ongoing programme of advocacy where campaigners are determined to demonstrate how an education system based more on integration will bring educational, societal and economic benefits. Survey after survey demonstrates that more integration has the overwhelming support of the majority of people.
It takes philanthropy because fundraising has been critical to the continued growth and development of integrated education. Very little could have been achieved, and a number of integrated schools would not even exist, if it wasn’t for the generous support of many individuals and organisations. Since 1992 the IEF has raised and dispersed over £25 million in support of integrated education, much of it in the form of seed corn grants to help schools get started and then support their development. In the case of Rowandale, the IEF not only purchased the original site of the school when government would not take the initial risk, but IEF donations have helped alleviate the pain of growth and the need to ‘prove demand’ by providing additional classrooms, a pre-school building, outdoor play facilities and even an additional teacher at a time when the school budget was stretched to the absolute limit. I have to say that all this effort and work is vindicated when an announcement like this from the Chancellor is made.
However, there is still much to do. We know we still need your support to help grow integrated education to meet parental demand. We know it takes time but we have demonstrated that we can deliver. We are more determined than ever to achieve our 10% goal for integrated places by 2021 and 30% by 2031.
I want to thank you for all your support and encouragement for our work.
I hope that we can continue to work together to ensure we keep delivering such positive results and give children a better future.
Wishing you a happy Christmas and a peaceful 2019.
Baroness May Blood MBE
Campaign Chair, Integrated Education Fund
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