#Belfast2020: Future will have to be more integrated than its troubled past…

On Nuzhound this morning there are two stories one above the other, which demonstrate the problem of trying to manage Northern Ireland’s (and Belfast in particular) problems from the sidelines. John Simpson makes the blindingly obvious statement that integration is the key to Belfast’s woes.

In many older parts of Belfast the population is too crowded. Victorian (or even post-1945) housing sits uneasily alongside the demands of improved living standards for space, amenities and services.

In too many parts of Belfast the performance of primary and secondary education leaves too many young people ill-equipped for the changing employment opportunities (and unemployment and educational attainment are inversely correlated). Third level education is often beyond the ambitions of too many.

In too many parts of Belfast the urban infrastructure of roads, transport, and commercial development is constrained by existing inherited patterns and there is little overall vision of the efforts and planning needed to secure change.

In too many urban wards in Belfast the indices of social and economic deprivation are worryingly low and, consequently, there is a critical impact linked to the (now changing) social welfare system.[Emphasis added]

In the Irish Times Pol O’Muiri picks up on the idea that integration in edcuation is the answer, but asks who will and how is it going to be implemented without serious impairment of parental choice. More to the point, he notes that there are powerful tides in history at play here which will not be easily reversed:

…the people on one side or the other are not “bad” because they live in one place and not another. They are simply people who have been put in their place due to historical forces – and I use the words “place” and “force” very deliberately in this context. It will take more than schooling children together to overcome and explain those forces.

The answers are not likely to be simple, and not all political. Our much postponed #DigitalLunch on #Belfast2020 finally takes place this Friday after more than two months of turmoil. Some of these issues are just some of the things I’d like to tease out in a series of posts this week in the run into Friday.


  • “there are powerful tides in history at play here which will not be easily reversed”

    The tides continue to flow. Take a brief look at proposed Post-Primary schooling in Coleraine – first the CCMS sector was ring-fenced, then the integrated one:


    Coleraine Academical Institution and Coleraine High School will combine to create two separate co-educational schools under the same school names and management types. One school will select its pupils by academic ability and will have a maximum enrolment of 990 pupils by the year 2025 with the other school non selective with a maximum enrolment of 1210 pupils by the year 2025.

    North Coast Integrated College will continue as an 11-19 school with a maximum enrolment by the year 2025 of 550 pupils.

    Dunluce School will continue as an 11-16 school with a maximum enrolment of 550 pupils by the year 2025.

    Coleraine College will be considered for closure.

    The Board wishes to signal the pivotal need for the provision of new school buildings to support the development of the two new co-educational schools contained in this proposal, given the current condition of the estate and the single sex nature of its provision.

    Ballycastle has two ‘comprehensive’ secondary schools, one NEELB, the other Catholic. Some parents there chose to bus their children to Garron Tower, Ballymoney, Coleraine and possibly Portstewart for educational and/or social reasons.

  • Otto

    “how is it going to be implemented without serious impairment of parental choice”

    We keep hearing this as if demand for segregated education wasn’t already oversupplied.

    It’s demand for properly integrated education that’s under-supplied people. Parental choice, especially for “integrated” families needs more integrated schooling.

    Put it another way. If we had an entirely demand based voucher based education system and no “do-gooder” involvement in schooling we’d have more integrated schools not less. Segregationists claiming to champion parental choice are in reality obstructing it to protect their bureaucracies.


    “In 1992, when the IEF was established, there were 3,408 pupils attending 18 integrated schools.

    By the time the IEF launched its first Development Plan in September 1998, 11,910 children had places in 43 integrated schools.

    By September 2009, at the start of our new 5 year plan, the number of integrated schools had further increased, to 61, and the total number of pupils in integrated schools had increased by over 75% (8,998) from 11,910 to 20,908.

    The actual number of children wanting a place in an integrated school was even higher but, sadly, because of insufficient places approximately 650 children were turned away from integrated schools in 2009/10 and in many areas there is no integrated provision at all – this is simply not acceptable. Significant growth is still required in the number of places available at every level in order to have integrated education available for all those who want it.”

  • Barnshee

    There is no prospect for integration in the short/medium term
    NI Society is wholly divided. Vested interests will combine and conspire to prevent it.

  • BarneyT

    “how is it going to be implemented without serious impairment of parental choice”

    Maybe that consideration is where the fault lies. A drastic situation calls for drastic measures so perhaps parental rights should be largely discounted?

  • Brian Walker

    Nevin, I was interested to see the future proposals for Coleraine schooling and I would be interested in your opinion. Thanks for the link. I’ve argued for years that the only way one can see a way ahead is to look at change proposals in detail alongside the records of academic performance, however fallible.

    The league tables tell some striking tales good and bad although they don’t record in the form available the numbers taking the exams or the value added, i.e. the rate of improvement

    In my day (1960s) in the state (mainly Protestant) maintained sector there was Coleraine Inst my old school and Coleraine High School both selective grammar schools with big boarding departments; then the controlled sector, Coleraine Technical college (now the Coleraine campus of the Northern Regional College, 3rd level vocational?) and the former Intermediate School, now Coleraine College a big late 1950s building up the Carthall Road.

    Coleraine Inst has inevitably changed in 40 years with the boarding dept closed and even the 1960s boathouse demolished despite nurturing Olympic silver medals. The school was among the 11 out of 68 grammar schools last year that failed to score 64% A to Cs in A level, the benchmark for ensuring a university place, according to the Bel Tel. Coleraine High School seems to be performing better.

    Catholic schools top the league tables. The sector seems to have done its pruning earlier than the state grammars. Among Catholic schools in the area I’m guessing that St Joseph’s and the Dominican Convent will survive.

    But it seems that Coleraine’s Prods can no longer sustain two traditional grammar schools. I assume North Coast Integrated College has had an impact on this, although non academically selective.

    I would guess that the CAI and High School are, as the proposals suggest, unsuitably too old and too small for co- ed whether selective or not and that new school buildings are necessary.

    What I don’t understand is why the new non-selective school cannot be merged with Coleraine College, a fairly modern building. Furthermore extra- curricular including sports could be developed at the extensive Coleraine Inst playing fields. Is there a reluctance to do this because the College is tainted as the former Intermediate? The alternative is to extend CAI as the non-selective where there is lots of space to develop, as most of the boarding dept has been demolished. The High School on the Lodge Road looks cramped although in very good order.

    I would guess that many Prod local vested interests will fight tooth and nail for any change until forced by funding pressures to do so. Or do I do them a disservice?

    The academic record of the integrated colleges remains disappointing

    Overall then, is an opportunity being lost to develop more efficient and effective non-selective integrated education to higher academic standards and with greater choice? . And is this a result that will be repeated throughout the province?

  • Kensei

    @Otto People going after “segregationionists” typically mean “anyone who supports Catholic schooling”. I just what to clarify – is that what you mean?
    Fully support integrated schooling responding to demand – as long as it is sufficiently viable in a particular area.

    @BarneyT MMMMMMM the delicious letsgetalongerist impulse to decide what’s good for other people’s children

    Look at the position of Catholic schools in the league tables. Look at the position of integrated schools. Realise why a lot of Catholics will die in a ditch to defend their choice before you get into any emotional attachment.
    There is probably more demand for “integrated” schooling of some sort, but it’ll be no means universal or can we even be certain that it is a majority. It is also not a panacea.

    Yugoslavia was integrated pre-collapse, by the by.

  • forthman

    Integrated education is a ‘no-brainer’, in my view. People will just have to think outside the box if they ever want to solve the cancer of sectarianism within our society. The vested interests will fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo, and may settle with perhaps some cosmetic change.
    I personally think it comes down to parents arrogant snobbery! Which society as a whole pays a price for.

  • Otto


    Read my post. I mean people who would deny other people an integrated education to protect their monopoly. There is an undersupply of integrated places and a massive (85,000 place) over supply of traditional controlled and maintained places. Yet when someone champions the right of parents to obtain an integrated place for their children they’re attacked as do-gooders and social engineers.

    Alliance have suggested that integrated education deserves priority in capital spend on new schools (not refurbishment of existing schools – new schools) as this is the sector which is undersupplied. In response the oversupplied sector is shrieking that choice is being taken away. How?

    If that isn’t threatened segregationism what is it? Because no-one with the tiniest appreciation of the facts could believe that integrated education threatens the existing sectors except by offering an alternative choice.

  • Lionel Hutz


    Surely part of the reason that there are not as many empty desks in integrated schools is in some respect due to the fact that they are by and larger newer schools built to meet demand in more recent years. Many maintained and controlled schools however have been sitting for decades with little change against failing enrolment numbers.

    When I look at this issue, the first question you have to ask is whether is reasonable to fund a faith based education system. There is nothing unusual as a faith based education system and so long as they stick to the cirriculum, they should continue to be provided. That is my view.

    The second question for me then is whether, given our segregated society, it would by right to depart from the generally accepted position that faith based education should be provided in order to integrate our children. There is clearly a legitimate aim there in wanting to end the division. So you might well think that it is a reasonable infringement on the right of parental choice in order to meet our abnormal needs?

    But even if you think that, you should also consider if there is a less intrusive way of doing it. I think there is. I think that they should adopt of policy of ensuring that there is collaboration between Catholic and State schools that is happening more and more anyway. Additionally, i would like to see better area planning so that in future new schools would be built alongside each other and could share classes with each other. That’s a longterm project but reasonable.

    The real barrier to a cohesive society is not the education system anyway. Its housing.

  • BluesJazz

    Faith is Belief without evidence.

    If we really want schools that teach this, why not follow on with Faith Universities (Bob Jones etc) which refuse to teach sinful ideologies like Evolution and Astronomy.

    i’m ok with superstition based schools provided the state doesn’t fund them and they don’t allow their ‘graduates’ to practice Medicine or fly airliners.
    Lots of other careers in becoming a nun, astrologer, sdlp politician etc. but nothing that puts weeping statues ahead of scientific fact.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I bet you think in Catholic schools they say the rosary before each class and say their confessions, dontcha?

    Go on, bluejazz, tell the truth.

    I bet its kind of like what many Catholics think happen in Orange Order lodges. Ritual sacrifices etc. lol

  • Otto

    “When I look at this issue, the first question you have to ask is whether is reasonable to fund a faith based education system”

    I’m not sure I’d meet you there Lionel because I think we might both end up battling figments of our own imagination. For a start integrated education in Northern Ireland isn’t opposed to catholic education. It actually aspires to offer catholic teaching within an integrated setting and the reluctance or refusal of catholic clergy to offer pastoral care and religious education within the integrated sector has been a frustration for the integrated sector. It’s fairer to say that catholic education opposes integration that the reverse.

  • BluesJazz

    No idea Lionel
    But I’ve seen the statues in many schools. They look kind of weird to me.
    I’m not sure what their purpose is. Sorta Dr Who stuff to any rational being.
    I’ve heard of rosary ‘beads’ but I have to admit I don’t know what the ‘rosary’ is.
    What I am curious is to what the difference is between ‘faith’ mathematics and it’s secular version is? Same for a variety of other subjects.

    Why can we not have secular schools and leave the sky pixie stuff to the parents?
    The FE colleges don’t seem to have a problem with it.

  • Lionel Hutz


    The Catholic Church has without doubt been protective of its place in the education system and I have no doubt that they would be suspicious of integrated education. But even if that is true, having an R.E. class is not what makes a faith school what it is.

    What I object to though, is the idea that there is something unusual about have faith schools. Like we are somehow strange here. I mean, we have about half (?) of our schools as catholic schools. In England, its about a third. Yet an English Prime Minister will talk about our school system as if it is an aberration.

    We do not have a segregated education system. We have a divided society where the groups are by and large either catholic on the one hand or protestant on the other. Whats segregated about the education system?

  • Otto

    “Whats segregated about the education system?”

    I’ll just be happy when people who do want a fully integrated school have the same choice as you Lionel. I don’t want to see the extermination of the catholic sector – I’m all for diversity. I’d actually rather have a full voucher system – it’s the best way to let education evolve along with society rather than following reluctantly decades behind.

  • aquifer

    When the welfare reform tsunami of desperation and dispair hits this place segregated education will look very expensive.

    And doubly segregated, by religion and class, just to make sure the spare young males have nothing better to do than make trouble.

    In a time when religions were even more divisive than now, it is clear why the American founding fathers had the good sense to ban religion from state funded schools.

    I may have to stop subsidising ethnic apartheid and vote Alliance. Or emigrate to somewhere with an economy.

  • Barnshee

    Coleraine AI and Coleraine HS have played the numbers game as roles have fallen and they have dropped the grades needed for entry to keep up numbers (and teaching posts) – The result is a “decline” in results as pupils achieving the lower grades from selection tests are admitted–Less in CHS than CAI

    The amalgamation of CHS-CAI will, with the retention of selection, will allow the “new” school to separate out the the top grades at selection.

    The end result will be a return to “higher achievement levels” in the “new grammar school”. The rest will attend an “associated school” most likely on a separate campus.
    Plus ca change toujours la meme chose

  • Brian, I’ve been away from Coleraine for 25 years so I’m very much an outsider now. The CAI boathouse has been replaced by the latest in architectural design to hit the north coast – a roof profile that is modelled on an old-style curved corrugated hay-shed 🙂

    Three changes stand out in that time: the ending of boarding departments in Loreto College, CAI, Coleraine High and Dominican College; the change in the two colleges from girls to co-educational; and the rise in paramilitary influence, with the related population shifts, during the so-called peace process era.

    Here are some statistics for Coleraine, Portstewart and Ballymoney: , (no in Yr8 – or Yr9, Yr8), {no in Yr14}, [free school meals] and *beltel GCSE ranking 2010/11*

    Loreto College: , (120), {95}, [6.4%], *=21*
    Coleraine AI: , (126), {70}, [5.5%], *62*
    Coleraine College: , (48,28), {0}, [42%]
    Coleraine High: , (120), {105}, [6.6%], *=5*
    St Joseph’s College: , (56, 36), {34}, [28.3%], *=171*
    North Coast Int. Coll: , (76, 48), {35}, [31.7%]

    Dominican College: , (72), {67}, [7.2%], *61*

    Dalriada: , (128), {108}, [3.7%], *=34*
    Ballymoney High: , (123), {0}, [26.7%]
    Our Lady of Lourdes: , (49), {0}, [28.9%], *89*

    The grammar-type schools, even when they drop the grammar label, all have free school meals ratings of less than 10% and all are independent of the NEELB apart from Coleraine High. CAI’s and Dominican College’s poorish GCSE ratings would indicate that their intake is significantly less able than the other grammar-type schools. Loreto and Dalriada also have higher drops in numbers going on to do A-level compared with Coleraine High suggesting, perhaps, that the latter has a more able intake – or that a girls school performs better than a co-educational one.

    The big drop in the current first year intakes in the non-grammar type schools in Coleraine is a bit of a puzzle. AFAIK the grammar-type schools have been able to fill their quotas yet there’s no corresponding drop in Ballymoney. Has there been significant migration from Coleraine?

  • OOPs, my bracketing excluded the total number of pupils in each school!

    Loreto College: 798
    Coleraine AI: 778
    Coleraine College: 262
    Coleraine High: 803
    St Joseph’s College: 350
    North Coast Integrated College: 454

    Dominican College: 500

    Dalriada: 858
    Ballymoney High: 643
    Our Lady of Lourdes: 235

  • BelTel A-Level rankings for 2010-11

    Loreto College: *20*
    Coleraine AI: *83*
    Coleraine High: *39*
    St Joseph’s College: *104*
    North Coast Integrated College: *160*

    Dominican College: *50*

    Dalriada: *39*

  • Otto

    It’s a very small sample, Nevin, but it’s interesting that the Catholic rankings rise between GCSE and A level and the State rankings fall.

    Could different sectors have different policies on GCSE grades required before progress to A level?

  • Otto, different policies on GCSE grades could be a factor as well as choice of examination boards and choice of subjects.

  • Otto

    Are you saying Catholic schools only look good because they pick easy boards and subjects? You’re brave! 😉

    Maybe we need a bigger sample than Coleraine before we get into that.

  • Otto, I can think of one school department which made a ‘strategic’ choice of board at A-level – and it had very few Catholic pupils 🙂

    I can think of two schools who opted-out of the agreed NI RE-syllabus at GCSE level; both opted for a London board: one Catholic themed, the other Evangelical Protestant!

  • Otto, one of my Facebook friends did A-level art at an eminent Catholic girls school back in the 90s. She said her school always got good results in that subject – and that her teacher set the paper 🙂