Integrated education took centre stage when The Ireland Funds held their Worldwide Conference in Belfast this month.
Chairman John Fitzpatrick addressed leading political, community and business leaders at the conference gala in St Anne’s Cathedral on Friday (21 June) and spoke of his desire to see more children and young people learning together in NI schools. The audience, including DUP leader Arlene Foster, heard John Fitzpatrick say:
“I want to see integrated education included in any future Programme for Government in Northern Ireland.”
Having recently visited Omagh and Cliftonville Integrated Primary Schools, which have benefited from the support of his family foundation, John Fitzpatrick spoke passionately about the positive impact that he feels integration brings.
A number of delegates from the Ireland Funds also visited Cliftonville Integrated Primary School in North Belfast during the conference, where they heard how the school had grown from around 150 pupils more than 400 in the ten years following its transformation to integrated status.
Baroness May Blood, Campaign Chair of the Integrated Education Fund, shared her hopes and aspirations for the future growth of integrated schooling at a plenary session during the conference. She said:
“There is real momentum growing for more integration. I see this all the time when I visit different schools across the country. There has never been as much interest from schools exploring integrated status as there is now. Real progress is being made but unfortunately it is still left to parents, individual schools and charities to seize the initiative. What we need alongside local community efforts is effective government planning for schools that acknowledges parental preference. No one should fear that. I hope we can see an Executive restored as soon as possible to deal with this issue once and for all, as well as all the other important challenges currently facing our education system.”
The four-day conference included close to 200 supporters from across the world including Ireland, the UK, the USA, Singapore and Australia.
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