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20 February 2015
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Integrated Education - An historical perspective

by Cecil Linehan, Chair, NICIE Millennium Steering Group

"All Aboard!" The Millennium Event for the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education: Building a Future together, Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education

Early Beginnings

In the early 1970s Catholic parents from Holywood, East Belfast and North Down came together to provide catechism classes for their children. For various reasons these parents had decided to send their children to state and other non-Catholic schools. Some were inter-church families, some had a parent in the security forces, for some it was a question of geography, but for all deep down there was a longing to share their children's education with other families of differing religious affiliations and cultural traditions. The parents adopted the name "All Children Together" (ACT).

In 1974, during the life of the Power-Sharing Executive, Basil McIvor, then Minister for Education, announced his Shared School Plan. ACT was approached by several Protestant parents who wish to support publicly the promotion of shared schools. Thus ACT became interdenominational and when the Executive fell in 1974, ACT promptly began organizing a Conference entitled: Integrated Schools: How? Why? And the Way Ahead. That conference was oversubscribed. It was clear to all involved that irrespective of the political climate, the time was right to explore ways of providing for parents schools that would be shared by the whole community.

Hopes were high that existing schools would change their management structures, and that the churches both Catholic and Protestant which held dominant positions on the boards of all schools would be prepared to share power and places with parents and thus allow an integrated ethos to develop.

First Legislation - The Education Act (NI) 1978

As there was no local legislature in Northern Ireland at the time, Stormont having been prorogues in 1974, ACT began drafting a Bill which would allow school boards to become integrated. It was successfully brought through the House of Lords by the late Henry Dunleath. Known as the Dunleath Act and entitled: An Act to facilitate the establishment in Northern Ireland of schools likely to be attended by pupils of differing religious affiliations or cultural traditions, it became law in 1978. However, three years later when no school had invoked the new legislations, parental frustration boiled over and the Annual General Meeting of ACT in 1981, a resolution was passed to open "an integrated all-ability post-primary college for Catholic and Protestant boys and girls." This was the beginning of Lagan College, the first planned integrated school. It opened in a scout hut in 1981 with 28 pupils. It now has over 900 pupils.

More new schools and supporting trusts followed, each set up by groups of Catholic, Protestant and other parents determined to educate their children together. From 1984 to 1990, trusts for integrated education were established in Belfast (BELTIE), in Portrush , North Coast Trust (NCCTIE), in Portadown/Craigavon, the South Ulster Trust (SUTIE), in Enniskillen, the Western Area Trust (WACTIE), and in L/Derry, the Foyle Trust.

New Provisions for Integrated Schools

Under the Education Reform (NI) Order 1989, the Department of Education in Northern Ireland (DENI) was given statutory responsibility to encourage and facilitate integrated education. Recurrent funding was given to new schools which met enrolment and growth criteria. However, no provision was made for capital development costs to be grant aided by Government until viability had been demonstrated, generally after three to four years.

The Establishment Of NICIE

The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) had been established in 1987 by the ten integrated schools which by this time parents had started all over the province. Under the 1989 Order DENI was given powers to find a development body for Integrated Education and in 1991 NICIE was core funded by DENI to be that body, to assist the development of planned integrated education and schools in Northern Ireland.
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