Press Release: Integrated College Proposal for Growth Refused

 Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education Press Release:

Tuesday 9 February 2021. 

For immediate release

Last week the Minister for Education rejected a proposal from Strangford College to expand its admission numbers. 

 Strangford Integrated College submitted a development proposal to the Department of Education requesting an additional 20 pupils per year, bringing their admission number to 130. The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) has been actively supporting the school to bring forward this proposal which was published in February 2020. 

Over recent years the level of demand for Integrated Education at Strangford College has led to a series of temporary variations being granted by the Department of Education to help meet strong parental preference.  Unmet demand for Integrated Education can be seen across Northern Ireland. In the 2018/19 academic year, 21% of pupils who had placed an Integrated Post Primary School as their first choice could not be accommodated.  This proposal would have gone some way towards meeting this demand in the Ards and North Down area. 

NICIE are disappointed that the Minister for Education has not approved the Proposal.  The reasons cited by the Minister for rejection were outlined as the negative impact on other non-selective schools and the need for a wider area solution.  NICIE would question the consistency of how these reasons have been applied, given the same rationale was not utilised when the Minister gave approval to increase admissions for another school in the same area.  The rejection of Strangford College’s proposal would appear to be at odds with the Department’s statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of Integrated Education. 


Awarding Arrangements for CCEA Qualifications in 2021

The Minister for Education and the Department of Education have released a number of letters and documents today (4th February) in relation to the awarding arrangements for CCEA  qualifications in 2021. 

As the documentation explains, on the 5th January the Executive announced extended closures of post-primary schools (and primary) due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Education Minister then took the decision to cancel all public examinations scheduled for January, February and summer 2021. Minister Weir made a statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly regarding this on the 2nd February. details can be found at this link:

The documents relating to the statement, for both parents/guardians and educational establishments are listed below.


The letter sent to all schools outlining the move and reasoning can be viewed by clicking here. In addition to the letter there is a detailed guide for schools at this link.

Parents, Guardians an Students.

This letter was sent to all parents, guardians and students, again outlining the next steps. In addition, a number of leaflets and guides were released. This leaflet for parents and students gives an overview. This one provides more detail including an FAQ.

Three further factsheets also provide more concise details. The first here has a summary of the process while the second here has more detail on the 5 steps to awarding grades for CCEA GCSE, AS and A Level qualifications. The final factsheet provides information on CCEA Occupational studies, Entry Level and Vocationally Related qualifications and can be viewed here.

Integrated Education Month 2021

March is Integrated Education Month and is an opportunity every year for Integrated schools and the whole Integrated movement to collectively celebrate and reflect on what makes us unique. 

This year, the theme is ‘together’. Being together over this past year has been a challenge, to say the least! Schools have been incredible and have found all sorts of ways to create togetherness in the face of the pandemic. Let’s celebrate that.

We are all part of an Integrated family that will survive and thrive beyond these troubled times. Let’s come together this March and celebrate that which can never be taken away – our Integration. Use IEM2021 to claim your contribution to peace and reconciliation and celebrate the unique educational experience your pupils have. We know that being together every day, whether online or not, is how we explore difference and build respect. In September, we will have been together in this movement for social change for 40 years. We are still together in this endeavour. 

The IEM guidance gives some ideas that we hope will help you to celebrate togetherness at a time when being physically together is not possible. Feel free to download and use the  IEM2021 logo.

We expect that most of the activity this year will be online and with this in mind, we would really appreciate you using the logo and adding a nod/tag to NICIE and IEF in your posts. 

#IEM2021 #togetherIEM2021

Round Tower Integrated Primary School

Integrated Nursery Unit for Round Tower IPS

NICIE offers warm congratulations to Round Tower Integrated Primary School, Antrim on receiving the news that they have been granted permission from the Education Minister to establish an Integrated Nursery Unit within their school grounds. This proposal will see the current Round Tower Integrated Playgroup with 24 funded places evolving to an Integrated Nursey Unit with 26 part time funded places within Round Tower Integrated Primary School. We welcome the growth of Integrated Education and are delighted to see the establishment of this Integrated Nursey Unit. We wish all the pupils and staff well on the next stage of their Integrated journey.


Integrated Education and All-Ability Schools

Michael Wardlow -Thought Piece

NICIE – Dunleath Lecture – Michael Wardlow – QUB – 7th March 2019
Photograph by Declan Roughan

In light of the cancellation of Primary to Post Primary transfer tests, there has been significant debate about academic selection. In this thought piece, Michael Wardlow outlines his views on the benefits of all-ability schooling in keeping with the ethos of Integrated Education.

Integrated Education and All-Ability Schools

The early movement for Integrated education was not based on a belief that the two “separate systems” were inherently flawed, that grammar schools should be abolished, or upon any philosophical understanding of what constituted an alternative, Integrated environment. The movement was rather predicated on the belief that Integrated schools could become places wherein pupils from the two main communities could meet safely to explore their differences, in safe environments, with specially trained teachers. Why? Because the first parents involved believed that if separating children in a divided society might perpetuate that division, then facilitating shared schools might allow children to get to know one another, learn to live with difference and develop lifelong friendships.

It soon became clear to the founding parents that in addition to being intentionally cross community in intake, the schools should be essentially Christian in character as that was the basis of the educational system in place. In addition, the parents were equally clear that the schools should be places of inclusion and therefore be open to all children regardless of their abilities. It was their view that this approach would ensure the maximum potential to allow the schools to best reflect Northern Irish society at large. These remain the three key principles at the core of today’s Integrated schools.

The recent debate around the cancellation or postponement of the so called “transfer tests”, has been difficult to resolve, because under the surface lies the as yet undetermined matter of whether or not academic selection should be used as the basis of entry to post primary schools.  My own view is that it is a method with more problems than solutions. But it is all too easy to condemn something rather than offer an alternative.

Selection at 10 years of age, for that is the reality, is measured by whether or not children achieve a particular grade in 2 or 3 unregulated tests. The tests cannot be said to be predictors of future prowess or ability. The best they can do is state whether or not on the test day that pupil did “well” or “poorly” in those tests. In fact the two tests used by the two private companies, are not the same. The 2 GL tests – taken mostly by Catholic children – are 45 mins and 50 mins long and are based on multi choice questions on Maths and English while the 3 AQE tests taken by the other, mostly Protestant, children are based on 3×1 hour tests each carrying a total of 64 marks, and which take account of the Maths and English  components of the primary school curriculum. In brief in my view there is no consistency of approach or methodology in this process.

In addition, although children with free school meals are allowed to enter the test at no cost, the AQE tests are not free for the majority of pupils, and cost approx. £50 per child. GL offers the test at no charge to parents, a significant advantage to that cohort. If this fee is added to the now, almost ubiquitous, tutoring involved with preparation for the tests, the cost can be significant for many families.

Finally, there is a fundamental question of why do we select at 10/11 and not be consistent using a similar process for entry to primary school? Or even if we were wed to the concept, why not consider 14+, when children are arguably better able to make personal choices, as  a deferred “election” point, such as is already in place in the Dixon Plan area?

So, let me suggest why I believe all ability schools offer an alternative to the current situation of selection by academic ability.

  1. There is now a cohort of schools both Integrated and non-Integrated which do not use academic selection to determine entry and their achievements can be openly scrutinised over decades. Many offer significant value added for pupils and allow them access to shared classrooms where they can both challenge and be challenged by peers of differing abilities. A few Integrated colleges use a form of partial selection to ensure a more academically balanced intake, particularly in areas of N Ireland where there is a high level of parental commitment to selection and significant numbers of grammar schools.
  2. All Ability does not mean that the schools focus teaching on some presumed academic mid-point of each class – which would feed a fear expressed by many parents of all ability education – a fear that their child will “not be challenged in such an environment”. Many Integrated schools “set” children in ability groups for individual subjects which means children who are stronger at Maths can be challenged by their peers in those settings while children who excel at languages, for example, have a similar opportunity. These groups are fluid in most cases so children can move within the subject groupings as they develop through the school.
  3. Significant numbers of parents are choosing to opt their children out of the tests. Of the c24,000 P7 children eligible to sit the tests, one in 3 opt out, with about 16500 taking the test. About 2000 of these do both tests with about 1000 pupils more sitting GL. The remainder transfer to post primary without the recourse to an academic test, including many to all ability, Integrated schools.
  4. Integrated schools focus on what happens after transfer, rather than the results of transfer, because they believe that it is what happens during the subsequent time spent in the school that builds character and develops a love for learning. This allows a less pressured year 6 and 7, where focusing on “the test” is not the main issue for the pupil.
  5. Finally Integrated schools have never sought to set up a one size fits all, all-ability, post primary system, or indeed to dismantle grammar schools. At the core of the movement has always been that choice should remain with parents and children and that this should be voluntary. The problem has always been that there are insufficient Integrated places for that choice to be met.

So, in this short piece I hope that I have challenged some of the negative stereotypes which abound on the dangers of all ability education. The fact that the majority of Integrated post primary schools are oversubscribed is testament to the fact that that they must be doing something right!


Michael Wardlow served as Chief Executive of NICIE between 1995 and 2009. From 2012 -2020 he was the Chief Commissioner at the NI Equality Commission.