In 1976, ACT (All Children Together) published a paper with proposals for shared management of schools in Northern Ireland. This paper comprised an early model for integrating existing schools along with the development of a curriculum to promote ´a common pattern of religious and moral education, and of historical and cultural studies´.
Then in 1978 Education (N.I.) Act encapsulated ACT´s proposals. Unfortunately the main Christian Churches did not respond to the facility offered for shared management of schools and this led directly to the establishment of Lagan College as an Independent Integrated School in 1981. Provision for existing schools to seek Controlled Integrated status was further provided in legislation in 1986, but this facility was not significantly utilised before the 1989 Education Reform (N.I.) Order.
By 1987 there were seven newly established Integrated schools and The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) was formed as a charitable organisation to:
- co-ordinate efforts to develop Integrated Education; and
- support parent groups through the process of opening new schools.
NICIE was formed with the encouragement of the Nuffield Foundation, which was then a major funder of the Integrated Schools.
In 1989, the Education Reform Order (ERO) (NI) gave the Department of Education (DE) a duty to ‘encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education’. It was at this point that the Department began to grant aid:
- schools with revenue funding, provided they met the appropriate criteria; and
- NICIE, so we could fulfil our role.
NICIE became a Company in February 1989.
Growth of the Schools
The viability criteria for obtaining government funding for new Integrated Schools have changed several times over the years. Parent groups who wanted integrated provision for their children have repeatedly had to jump these hurdles to achieve their goal. The other issue aside from paying the teachers and buying books and equipment has been how to fund a building for the new school. By 1996, 13 Grant Maintained Integrated (GMI) schools had been set up since the passing of the 1989 Order and the total number of integrated schools was 23 and yet parental demand for integrated places could not be met. The success of the integrated schools in starting up and growing was seen as becoming too expensive. The criteria for funding were tightened and the quality of the buildings were downgraded from a brick building to a core brick building and mobiles for the rest of the accommodation.
In addition, DE began to favour transformation as a less expensive way to deliver Integrated Education, placing yet another constraint on groups working to provide Integrated Education in their area.
To help meet the demand for Integrated Education and help parent groups build schools fit for purpose, a system was set up whereby NICIE borrowed the money to buy the site and build the school from three of the main banks in Northern Ireland. The school has then to demonstrate long-term viability over three consecutive years before the Department of Education will vest the school and repay the capital cost of buildings if it has the money available to do so. This system worked well for 12 years. NICIE built and opened 19 new schools using this funding mechanism.
Unfortunately, the credit crunch in 2008 and the closure of Armagh Integrated College before it was vested ended the system and left us in substantial debt. However, the route to transformation remains open and to date, 22 of the 62 Integrated Schools have come about by changing an existing school’s status to integrated status.
Statement of Principles
We devised the first NICIE Statement of Principles in 1991 to answer the question: What does Integrated Education mean? In 2009, we drafted a new version to address the changing context of Northern Ireland.
Over the years, we have benefited from many different charitable funds. This has helped us fund up to 20 additional posts over the years, and it has allowed us to do work in areas that the DE was unable to fund.
Charities have also generously funded a number of projects to benefit Integrated Education. For example, The International Fund for Ireland funded the Integrating Education project, where staff worked with both Integrated and non-integrated schools to establish and disseminate good practice. (It is also currently funding the Sharing Classrooms: Deepening Learning project.) Atlantic Philanthropies twice funded a communication and lobbying team to raise the profile of integration regionally and nationally. The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation has twice funded professional development of teachers in Integrated Schools. Recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin funded a project that is investigating how best to support teachers who are dealing with the current decade of anniversaries.
Integration in Practice
Since the mid-1990s, developing excellence in Integrated Education has been a major focus for us. This is when the Early Years Committee devised the first Anti-Bias curriculum. The document helped lay the foundation for professional development training for staff in Integrated Schools. When coupled with the new Statement of Principles, the two led the way for the Excellence in Integrated Education Award, a quality mark for integration in practice
NICIE was established in 1987 and today there are approximately 22,000 children benefiting from Integrated Education. This is a testament not only to the power of the small groups of parents who started the schools or supported their schools in transforming, but also to the hard work of the small staff team and volunteer directors here at NICIE.
We may no longer have the means to open new schools, but we continue to support parents who want Integrated Education for their children. We support schools that want to transform to integrated status, and we advise existing Integrated Schools who wish to increase their enrolments.
We offer training to governors to explain the very different systems of governance that exist in GMIs and help them support excellence in Integration in their own schools.
Our organisation has recently been re-designated as a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB).
Despite this change, we will remain as an ethos body with a representational role. We will continue to campaign on behalf of the approximately 700 children each year who do not get a place in Integrated Schools. In a recent poll by IPSOS/MORI, 90% of respondents said that Integrated Education is important to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and we at NICIE whole-heartedly agree.