Schools celebrate 40 years of integrated education in Belfast

School pupils, teachers, alumni and esteemed guests gathered at Belfast City Hall to mark the end of a year-long series of events celebrating 40 years of Integrated Education in Northern Ireland.

The event saw creative performances, art, music, magic and more from current and past students at Integrated schools across the country.

During the 2021/22 school year there was a vast range of events and initiatives taking place in support of the anniversary, encouraging Integrated schools, support bodies and interested individuals to utilise the anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on Integrated Education today and look forward to the years ahead. The packed programme of 40th anniversary celebrations began in 2021, marking 40 years since Lagan College opened its doors in 1981 as the first Integrated school in Northern Ireland. At present, there are 68 Integrated schools spread throughout the province, with two more becoming Integrated from September 2022.

Roisin Marshall, CEO of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), said: “We were delighted to conclude a fantastic year of events celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Integrated Education by gathering together to reflect at Belfast City Hall. It was wonderful to be treated to a number of talented performances and speeches from pupils both past and present, showcasing what Integrated Education has to offer. This event truly shines a light on how far Integrated Education has come in Northern Ireland since the opening of Lagan College in 1981. As a society, we should feel very proud of the steps that we are taking to build peace and educating children together has a unique part to play in that. The journey of Integrated Education reminds us of all that from small, humble beginnings, great change can happen.”

Pupils from All Children’s Integrated Primary School, Newcastle and Annsborough Integrated Primary School, Castlewellan

Across 40 years, Integrated Education has grown from 28 pupils to just over 25,000 with every school either opened by groups of parents or transformed to integrated status through parental ballot. Integrated Education is a story about hope in the face of separation and by intentionally bringing people together, Integrated schools can deliver quality education and contribute to peace and reconciliation. Four new schools joined the Integrated community in 2021, with Harding Memorial PS, Central IPS, Seaview IPS joining Brefne Nursery in receiving approval from the Education Minister to transform to Integrated status. Glengormley High School and Bangor Central Nursery School are approved for transformation from September 2022, meaning that in September 2022 there will be 70 Integrated schools across Northern Ireland.

Roisin explained: “The development of Integrated Education across the province has been transformative. A lot has been achieved and embraced, but we still have to keep pushing forward for the next 40 years and beyond.”

Cecil Linehan, co-founder of All Children Together (1972), which was a parent-led movement for the development of Integrated schools in Northern Ireland, continued: “It is wonderful to see how far Integrated Education has come since the opening of Lagan College in 1981. From starting our movement in 1972, we could not have pictured this monumental growth and passion in this sector over the subsequent decades. Integrating our schools is key to building a kinder, more inclusive society that has respect for different backgrounds, faiths, and outlooks. All the parents, teachers, pupils, AlumNI and more have done such important pioneering work and I am looking forward to seeing Integrated Education continue to flourish here in Northern Ireland thanks to coordinated vision and leadership.”

The 40th celebrations were organised by NICIE and a working group of representatives from the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), the Association of Principal teachers in Integrated schools (APTIS) and the AlumNI with funding from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs who continue to support parents who want Integrated Education for their children. NICIE support schools that want to transform to integrated status and advise existing Integrated Schools who wish to increase their enrolments. They also work with parent groups who wish to see integrated provision in their area.

Cedar Integrated Primary teacher with pupils at the 40th anniversary celebrations
Lagan Colleage students and teacher at the 40th anniversary celebrations
Acorn Integrated Primary student at the 40th anniversary celebrations
Brownlow Integrated College teacher and pupils