Make integrated schools the norm, NSS tells NI executive

Posted: Fri, 13th Oct 2023

NSS urges more support for schools where children from all religion and belief backgrounds are educated together., Shutterstock

Integrated schools should be "fully mainstreamed" in Northern Ireland, the National Secular Society has told the NI executive.

The NSS said it is "essential" that NI's Department of Education (DoE) "ensures that every family who wants to send their child to an integrated school can do so", in response to a DoE consultation.

The DoE is consulting on its 'action plan' for implementing the Integrated Education Act, which was passed last year and requires the NI executive to support integrated schools.

Integrated schools proactively teach pupils from Protestant, Catholic and other religious and nonreligious backgrounds together, in an effort to end religious sectarianism and segregation in NI. Over 90% of pupils in Northern Ireland attend schools which are effectively segregated along religious lines.

Integrated schools should be a "realistic choice for every family"

The NSS said progress towards a more integrated system is "far too slow" and access to an integrated school is "unobtainable" for most families.

There are 70 integrated schools in NI, compared with over 500 controlled schools attended mainly by children from Protestant backgrounds, and over 400 Catholic schools.

Integrated schools are widely supported by parents: a 2021 poll found 71% think it should be the 'main model' for NI's education system.

The DoE's vision should be to "fully mainstream integrated education", the NSS said. It said integrated schools "should not be a 'niche' form of education relegated to handfuls of communities", but a "realistic choice for every family".

The NSS warned against plans for the Education Authority to work in partnership with the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) on assessing demand for integrated schools, due to the Catholic Church's bias against integrated schools. According to research carried out between 2007 and 2008, just over a third of integrated schools experienced public opposition from clergy. Most of this opposition came from representatives of the Catholic Church who discouraged Catholic parents from choosing an integrated school rather than a Catholic school.

The NSS also drew attention to aspects of NI's education system in need of reform. These include abolishing its collective worship laws and making its Christian-biased religious education (RE) more balanced. Last year the High Court of Northern Ireland found NI's collective worship and RE breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

The NSS added that the legally-imposed Christian ethos on integrated schools will become "increasingly inappropriate" as NI becomes less religious and more diverse. It urged the DoE to "work towards a secular school system which treats all families, whatever their religion or belief, equally".

NSS: Integrated schools 'overwhelmingly popular, overwhelmingly necessary'

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "Integrated schools are overwhelmingly popular in Northern Ireland – and overwhelmingly necessary.

"NI is still a religiously divided society. Teaching children from all backgrounds under one roof is one of the most effective ways we can close these divisions and bring communities together.

"The NI executive must work to remove all barriers to opening integrated schools. It must ensure every family who wants to see their children attend an integrated school is given that opportunity.

"And as NI becomes increasingly irreligious and diverse, more work will be needed to ensure all its schools are genuinely inclusive of all."

The consultation closes on 31st October. The NSS encourages all those who support integrated education to respond via the DoE's website or by emailing

The NSS's response can be viewed here. The Integrated Education Fund, which supports integrated schools, has some useful pointers for responses.

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