Towards integration or segregation..?

Interestingly, none of the major parties oppose integrated education. Yet, in a storm, few are prepared to back it either. Even the government, which highlights the segregated nature of Northern Irish society in its A Shared Future initiative seems to have abandoned it in the face of dropping rolls in the state and maintained school sectors and the ensuing fight for finite resources.Contrary to the idea that integrated education is a middle class affair, some schools like Hazelwood College (celebrating it’s twentieth anniversary last September) primarily serve working class kids who would otherwise never meet, never mind establish serious friendship with people from the ‘other side’ in a notoriously fractured North Belfast. Indeed they only established themselves in the teeth of some very nasty opposition.

That’s not to say that mixing does not occur outside the integrated sector. Indeed, according to some original research being carried out by Dr David Russel, a Research Fellow at the School of Education at Queens University at least one state primary school has virtually 50/50 Protestant and Catholic children attending. Indeed, there are several state (often erroneously term ‘Protestant’) Primary schools which have a clear majority of Catholic children in attendance.

There are a number of post primary state schools that have more than 30% Catholics in their population, including Strabane Grammar, Limavady Grammar and Crumlin High, which has a near even split between Catholic and Protestants and a very high percentage of others. Rainey Endowed in Magherafelt and Dominican College in Portstewart cross the line – but are both in the Voluntary sector.

St Columbanus and one its feeder schools, St Malachi’s in Bangor has 30% or more Protestants in attendance. It’s said that they have followed best practice, whilst retaining the Catholic ethos of the school, they have ensured that parents of students from right across the school population are involved in the management and care of the school.

But generally, there seems to be very little mixing in the Catholic school sector. And mixing in general terms is rare outside those few we’ve mentioned above and the nursery and special school sectors, where the government has traditionally refused to cater for religious differences.

At a time when Tony Blair is pushing the value of faith schools in Britain, no junior minister will force the dismantling of the Catholic school education system. At the same time, there are few enough policy instruments that will allow the government to address a problem highlighted in its own Shared Future document, which in a number of areas, not least housing (less than 10% of social housing in NI is mixed) indicates a weak and fragmented, not to mention fearful society.

  • fair_deal

    The state should support one integrated secular school system. Any school that doesn’t like it can go private.

    The rationalisation and savings could actually mean NI gets closer to Brown’s declared aim of equivalent private public spending per pupil sooner.

  • Can someone clear something up. I’ve long believed that to be awarded integrated status, a school must also be comprehensive. Thing is I remember ‘learning’ this some years ago, but can’t remember the source – is it correct? That compulsion is (or would be) my only major concern with integrated education.

  • Yokel

    I’ll ask again, can someone tell me why we shouldnt just go integrated and do placement on the basis of broad geography…

  • Alan


    No, an integrated school is organised according to the decision of its BoG or founders. Lagan have a grammar stream. Elsewhere there is a wide range of forms of comprehensive education, some are ( or it might be “were” now ) straight comprehensives,most tend to band across core subjects.


    There is an issue of who owns CCMS schools.

  • Yokel

    Alan..and anyone else..please expand

  • Reader

    Mick: St Columbanus and one its feeder schools, St Malachi’s in Bangor has 30% or more Protestants in attendance.
    (I have Prod kids going to St M’s). I suppose almost all of the above examples are special cases. In those two cases, StM’s is an excellently run school next to a Loyalist tip. Its catchment area includes a lot of people who just want an education for their children – never mind the label. StC’s is probably a quite decent secondary in the middle of a middle class area, and will tempt Prods whose children don’t get the 11+, and don’t want to send their children 2 miles across town or pay a fortune. Oh – one other thing – the local integrated secondary is a disaster area.

  • Yokel – what I meant was, is it possible for an integrated school to apply academic selection as an entrance criteria (thereby being an integrated grammar), not whether or not they stream pupils.

  • Crataegus


    I agree cut the nonsense and get back to a simple efficient structure. You could accommodate religious belief within a common structure.

  • Ultonian Scottis American

    How compulsory education was handled in NYC in the 1960s (and pretty much around the country, then and now):

    If you want your child raised in a religious context, you pay for it out of your own pocket, whilst still paying for the state’s non-sectarian compulsory schools.

    In NYC, on Wednesdays, pupils could be excused to attend “religious instruction” somewhere else. Only RCs seemed to avail themselves of this. Others used Saturdays for this.

    As an aside, RC schools were notorious for expelling disruptive pupils onto the state supported non-sectarian compulsory schools. This would be after numerous, sometimes quite vicious beatings at the hands of nuns and “brothers” failed to bring them into line. Now brutalised, as well as disruptive, they were dumped into a system that couldn’t turn them away, forbidden to use corporeal punishment. Many times these students were only too willing to practise their newly aquired taste in brutality upon the rest of us.

  • IJP

    Are you sure, Mick? The DUP opposed integrated education in Castlereagh Council and McNarry opposed it in a recent education debate at Bangor Grammar. And as for Nationalists being in favour of integrated education, that’s a laugh!

    Fair Deal is right. The idea that integrated education can’t be funded because of ‘finite resources’ is total lunacy.

    It is ‘segregated education’ that we can’t afford.

  • Reader

    IJP: It is ‘segregated education’ that we can’t afford.
    But you only have one vote. We have a triple split education system here – male/female, state/Catholic/integrated and Grammar/Secondary. And all of those splits have their supporters.
    Introducing new integrated schools into a fragmented and shrinking school system is bound to be difficult. The squeeze is too tight. The attempt to introduce comprehensive education might open the door to creating integrated schools, but I think it’s too high a price. Better to move to a school system that is mixed male/female by default. That might make room for integrated schools without reducing educational standards.