Integrated Education has come a long way since the opening of Lagan College in 1981.
Integrated Education in Northern Ireland is a grassroots, community led response to an education system that largely separates children according to their religious and cultural affiliation or background.
Since its foundation in 1921, Northern Ireland’s education system has largely consisted of state controlled schools (mainly attended by protestant pupils) and catholic maintained schools (almost exclusively attended by catholic pupils).
The first attempt to break the established mould of education was the formation of the campaigning group All Children Together, established by parents whose vision was one whereby existing schools could transform to Integrated status.
When no existing schools succeeded in transforming this led directly to the establishment of Lagan College, the first planned Integrated school in Northern Ireland, in 1981.
The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) was formed in 1987 as a coordinating body to give advice and guidance to schools and parent groups.
The 1989 education reform order gave the Department of Education statutory responsibility to encourage and facilitate Integrated schooling. Whilst immediate recurrent funding could be given to new schools who met stringent enrolment and growth criteria, there was no provision for capital funding until the schools had demonstrated their viability over time.
In 1991, Brownlow College in Lurgan became the first school to Transform to Integrated status. There are now 29 Transformed schools, 23 Primary, One Nursery and Five Colleges.
In 1992 the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) was set up as an independent charity to be a financial foundation for the growth and development of Integrated Education. The IEF has gone on to raise and invest over £25 million in Integrated Education.
Between 1997 and 2001, five Integrated schools were opened by parents but were initially refused any government funding. With financial support from the IEF all the schools open independently and eventually went on to secure government approval and full funding.
In 2004, the largest increase in Integrated schools in a single year took place as five new schools opened and two more Transformed to Integrated status.
In 2014, a High Court judge ruled that the Department of Education needed to be “alive” to its statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of Integrated Education” at a strategic level. Justice Treacy also clarified that the term ‘integrated education’ cannot apply to a school with just mixed enrolments rather to formally constituted Integrated schools where integration includes staffing and governance.
In 2015, the Fresh Start Agreement included a commitment from the UK Treasury to invest almost £300 million in capital funding for 23 existing Integrated schools in a desperate need for new accommodation.
In 2021, four more schools Transformed to Integrated status, taking the total number of Integrated schools to 68 educating more than 25,000 children and young people.