As 2023 draws to a close, the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) wants to thank you for your continued support and provide you with a summary of some of the key highlights of the year.
Working closely our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education there have been many highs and a few lows.
During 2023, our ‘Integrate My School’ campaign helped support the following schools progress to a parental ballot on Transformation to Integrated status, where a clear majority of parents voted in favour of such a transition process in their school:
In September, Sion Mills Primary School received official confirmation that it would be granted Integrated status, thus becoming the 71st Integrated school in Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, the following primary schools’ proposals were turned down by the Department – Gillygooley Primary School (near Omagh), Straid Primary School (near Ballyclare) ad St Anne’s Primary School (Donaghadee). These are largely small rural schools which the Department considered to be unsustainable. A bitter disappointment for all the parents and schools concerned.
However, better news was to come in September when the Department approved the creation of a new Integrated College serving the Causeway Coast area incorporating North Coast Integrated College, and the establishment of a new College to serve the Mid Down area incorporating Blackwater Integrated College was approved in October.
In June, we welcomed the Department approval of the establishment of 26 part-time places in pre-school provision at Enniskillen Integrated Primary School, as well as a statutory nursery unit at both Rowandale Integrated Primary School and Drumlins Integrated Primary School.
Throughout the year the Fund has continued to extend the work of its Future Schools project with Ulster University to encourage schools and local communities to consider their longer-term sustainability before decisions are made that could threaten the very existence of education provision in some areas.
In April, the Department of Education published its first ever strategy and action plan for Integrated Education following the passing of the Integrated Education Act in 2022. The IEF is concerned that the plans fail to meet the legal obligations lead down in the Act. We will continue to press for its full implementation.
Throughout 2023 several events took place to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement including our own special screening of Patrick Kielty’s documentary “My Da, the Peace Deal and Me” at Hazelwood Integrated College. The Good Friday Agreement contained a specific pledge “to facilitate and encourage integrated education and mixed housing” as an essential element in the process of reconciliation and the creation of “a culture of tolerance at every level of society”.
The IEF was also delighted to be part of a special Peace Summit initiative with a number of collaborative partners led by the John and Pat Hume Foundation and Community Dialogue. The Summit was a culmination of months of engagement with young people (led by Youth Action) and wider civic society as everyone reflected on peace 25 years on from Good Friday and presented their hopes for the future.
The Transforming Education research briefings by the Ulster University continued to examine those aspects of education system impacted by societal division. The ‘Cost of Division’ report attracted generated significant debate and considerable media coverage.
Thanks to the support of our donors, the IEF is currently providing over £850,000 in grants to support 144 live projects in Integrated and transforming schools. Many of our grant programmes are supported by Hagan Homes in Northern Ireland, along with other donors like the Pears Foundation and several individual donors. We are also immensely grateful for the increased support for Integrated Education provided by both the British and Irish Governments. The Fresh Start Agreement Capital Fund through HM Treasury continues to benefit several Integrated schools in desperate need of modern accommodation. The IEF is also delighted to support the creativity of students through the Carson Awards, sponsored by Tony Carson and also students going on to attend Further and Higher Education and University through the Lincoln Awards.
Our fundraising event highlights include the hugely successful May Ball which celebrated the life and contribution of our late Chair, Baroness May Blood, the Stand Up for Integrated Education Comedy Gala in the Ulster Hall and an Afternoon Tea in the Ulster Reform Club hosted by Wendy Wason. Integrated schools continued to support the Fund through these events and through the now annual Odds On for Integrated Education fundraiser.
Further good news is that public opinion remains firmly on our side as evidenced by the Lucidtalk Attitudinal Poll published in April which suggested that 66% of people here believe Integrated should be the main model of education.
In the Autumn we launched our first ever TV advertising campaign, funded by a donor, and with the support of Liam Neeson, which will seek to further raise awareness for Integrated Education and empower parents and schools through ‘Integrate My School’.
Sadly during the year, we also lost a number of special people who had supported Integrated Education in a major way such as Chuck Feeney from Altantic Philanthropies, our former volunteer Lady Stella Empey and stalwart of the All Children Together movement, Brian Garrett. We will remember them all fondly and with gratitude.
Our work has been emboldened by the great work of the Integrated AlumNI, who continue to represent the cause with passion and commitment.
At the time of writing, we await with cautious optimism of the findings of the Independent Review of Education which is due to publish its recommendations.
As we look forward to 2024, we would like to encourage you to consider a submission to the recently launched inquiry into Integrated Education announced by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster. The Committee will look at the potential costs and benefits of Integrated Education and the effect of recent legislation. It will also consider policy recommendations for Northern Ireland’s education system.
Thank you all for your encouragement and support. I do hope you can continue to support our efforts as we seek to build on the many successes of 2023.
Wishing you all a peaceful and happy Christmas & New Year.