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specialfocus

May 2017

Integrate My School: Are You In?

You may have seen my friend Liam Neeson’s video sharing the news of the Integrate My School campaign. It’s an example of Liam’s generosity towards causes he supports, like integrated schools in Northern Ireland and the Integrated Education Fund (IEF).

The Integrate My School campaign introduces an online platform; integratemyschool.com for parents from any school to register a wish for their school to become officially integrated.

The IEF launched this campaign with confidence of public support. Research has shown that a
majority of parents would be interested in their school taking this new path. Most parents want to see a new, better, shared future for their children. They would like to see them happy and comfortable living, learning and eventually working alongside others of all backgrounds, faiths, traditions and beliefs. And many parents recognise that the place to start to build this future is in our schools.

But not many parents know the good news: any school, except Special schools or a school based in a hospital, can apply for integrated status. The process is supported by the Department of Education and it is officially called “transformation” – and your school can start to explore this option, as long as parents want it.

Many families have strong connections to their local school and are proud that their child is receiving a good education. Many parents also want something more for their families. They want their school to become the best school it can be. They want to add value to their children’s education in a way which will contribute to building better relationships across Northern Ireland, for a better future. Your school adopting integrated status will enable your child to have a wider range of friendships, develop more positive social attitudes and provide a wider range of life experiences which in themselves are educational.

Parents in 25 schools across Northern Ireland have successfully started their school along this path of positive change. They wanted to see their school become a school for the entire local community, welcoming children from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds, and those from other cultures and traditions, to be educated together. Representatives of these schools are often happy to talk about integration and to share their experience with any other school community considering following in their footsteps.

Your school principal and governors are continually working to develop and improve your school. Your school’s development plan could embrace a pledge to become a school which reflects the diversity of life today and which welcomes children and young people from all faiths and none. This positive change is a definite possibility, as long as parents like you want it to happen.

Your school can become an integrated school.

If enough parents sign a petition to tell their school they want to explore integration, then the Board and the Principal must ballot all parents on the issue. And if the majority voting in the ballot is in favour of the move, then the school will start the process of applying to become officially integrated. It usually takes around three months until a decision is announced.

You, as a parent, can be involved every step of the way; at first, of course, by signing a petition and encouraging others to sign up too. Then, before the parents vote on integration, there will be a period when everyone has the opportunity to find out more about integrated education and can share and discuss the reasons for making the change. And every parent has an important role to play by voting in the school’s ballot. Becoming an integrated school means encouraging parents to play a part – there could be the opportunity to take a place on the board of governors, or to become an active member of the PTA or parents’ council.

Help is available to guide your school through the steps toward integration: The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) has worked with parent groups and supported the successful transformation of 25 schools to integrated status. NICIE.org

The Integrated Education Fund (IEF) is an independent charitable trust and we can supply more information and offers help, advice and financial support for schools. ief.org.uk

The Education Authority and Department of Education can offer support and advice throughout the process of transformation.

You can find out more at integratemyschool.com The IEF and NICIE are ready to help your school explore the idea and we are keen to meet parents for an informal chat if you want more information. We’ll be out and about over the summer, and you can find the Integrate My School stall at events around Northern Ireland in the coming months. Come and talk to us and find out more!

By Baroness May Blood MBE – Campaign Chair of the IEF

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