CAIN Web Service

Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster

Centre Publications

[Centre for the Study of Conflict - Home Page]
[Background] [Staff] [Projects] [CENTRE PUBLICATIONS] [Other Information] [Contact Details]
[Chronological Listing] [Alphabetical Listing] [Subject Listing]

Text: Grace Fraser and Valerie Morgan ... Page Design: Fionnuala McKenna

In the Frame - Integrated Education in Northern Ireland

In the Frame
Integrated Education in Northern Ireland:
the implications of expansion

by Grace Fraser and Valerie Morgan
Published by the University of Ulster, Coleraine 1999
ISBN 1 85923 133 0
Paperback 118pp £6.00

Out of Print

This material is copyright of the Centre for the Study of Conflict and the author(s) and is included on the CAIN web site with the permission of the publisher. Reproduction or redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Integrated Education in Northern Ireland:
the implications of expansion

Grace Fraser and Valerie Morgan

University of Ulster
Centre for the Study of Conflict

ISBN 1 85923 133 0

1999 Centre for the Study of Conflict


The authors would like to thank all those who agreed to be interviewed for this research project. This includes primary and secondary school principals as well as individuals representing the following: the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, the Education and Library Boards, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, teachers’ unions and Northern Ireland political parties. We are particularly appreciative not only of the time all took out of their busy schedules to answer our questions but also of the care and thoughtfulness with which this was done.

The interpretations put upon interview data, and the content and structure of this final version of the report are of course the responsibility of the authors alone.


From its establishment in the mid-1970s the work of the Centre for the Study of Conflict has placed considerable emphasis on relationships between education and the conflict in Northern Ireland. The Centre carried out a number of pioneering studies in the seventies and eighties, all of which had a significant influence on educational developments and innovations such as Education for Mutual Understanding and the creation and evolution of the integrated schools sector.

These two ideas represented a two-pronged approach to educational change. Education for Mutual Understanding was intended to introduce to schools a more pluralistic and inclusive approach to their curriculum, on the grounds that the majority of the school population of Northern Ireland was being educated within a religiously segregated system, and that this was likely to remain the pattern for the majority of children into the foreseeable future. The new integrated schools sector, on the other hand, was intended to provide a (previously unavailable) option for those parents who wished to have their children educated together in a non-segregated environment. Both programmes continue to exist, but their growth and development illustrate that social movements of this kind always have unintended consequences, and that there is a constant need to monitor and study their progress and difficulties.

Valerie Morgan and Grace Fraser have, through their many studies and researches, kept a close and reflective eye on these matters. This latest study looks at the current situation, how the development of integrated schools and integrated education was and is perceived, and some of the difficulties and controversies that have emerged as the sector has grown bigger. They consider questions such as the rate of growth of integrated education, the financial implications of continued unplanned growth, and government criteria for the transformation of existing schools into integrated schools.

Analyses of these questions make clear that there remain fundamental issues of principle to be resolved, and that the ideal of a system within which parents can choose between Catholic, Protestant and integrated schools at both primary and secondary schools is fraught with economic and demographic difficulties.

The Centre for the Study of Conflict is delighted to have the opportunity to publish this new and important study, which we believe will inform a continuing and central debate about the future of society here.

Seamus Dunn
May 1999


    The Developing Integrated School System
    Aims of the Project - Studying the Implications of Growth - Responses and Actions
    Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education
    Experiences of School Principals
    Parents and Governors
    British Government - Direct Rule Administration
    The Department of Education for Northern Ireland
    The Area Education and Library Boards
    The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS)
    Teaching Unions
    Political Parties
    The Churches
    Possible Ways Forward
    Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Appendix D
Appendix E
Appendix F
Appendix G
Appendix H
Appendix I


The development, over the last fifteen years, of a considerable number of ‘planned integrated schools’ is perhaps one of the most unexpected changes in Northern Ireland education since the inception of the state in 1921 (Dunn, 1986a). In its Statement of Principles, NICIE (the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education) has defined integrated education, in the Northern Ireland context, as:

‘education together in school of pupils drawn in approximately equal numbers from the two major traditions with the aim of providing for them an effective education that gives equal expression of the two traditions’ (NICIE, 1991).

How this aim was to be achieved is what differentiates the new planned integrated schools established in the 1980s and 1990s from those preexisting schools which might have been described as ‘integrated’ on the grounds that their rolls have, over prolonged periods, contained pupils from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. NICIE’s model was and is one of deliberate and structured integration in contrast to the previous pattern of relatively isolated examples of integration arising from local circumstances and tradition. Their Statement of Principles sets out in detail how schools linked to the Council should plan to achieve integration in all aspects of school life. The juxtaposition of children from the two main sections of the community was and is seen as only the beginning for a process through which a whole learning environment has to be built up through the negotiation of a basic social contract which offers a totality of experience, an ‘effective education’ for a divided society (NICIE, 1991). All of this of course touches on complex issues since the nature of the relationship between segregated education and communal division remains controversial but the supporters of integrated education see the schools as both exemplars and agents of social change.

Within the context of a contested state and a population which was deeply divided on political, social, cultural and religious lines well before the present phase of ‘the troubles’ began in the late 1960s, it is not hard to see why the planned integrated school movement, developing as it did during the increasingly bitter communal strife of the next two decades, should have been regarded as a phenomenon which ‘broke the mould’ of the traditional segregated education system in Northern Ireland (Darby, 1976; Dunn, 1991).

‘For perhaps the first time in Northern Ireland, parental choice was not to be limited to choice between two types of denominational school. If the full exercise of choice involved establishing their own school, "ipso facto" such parents were expressing dissatisfaction with an established system. The ramifications of this rejection were to reverberate far beyond the classroom’ (Morgan, 1992a).

‘Breaking the Mould’ was the central theme of our previous research study on integrated education published in 1992 (Morgan, 1992b). As part of the extensive programme of work on education carried out in the Centre for the Study of Conflict in the University of Ulster, this project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, set out to examine the roles which parents and teachers played in the establishment of some of the first integrated schools in Northern Ireland and in the development of what have come to be recognised as the distinctive features of integrated education (Dunn, 1986a; Dunn, 1991). In ‘Breaking the Mould’ we concluded that at the time of writing (Morgan, 1992b) it was difficult to predict the future of integrated education in Northern Ireland. In part this was due to the grassroots origins of the planned integrated schools, especially the spontaneous role played by parents in the foundation of individual schools. This made it almost impossible to predict either the geographical location of new schools or the chronology of expansion. In addition the role of NICIE, which had only just been established, was unclear and even more important no one could be sure what impact the Education Reform (NI) Order of 1989 would have on the rate and form of growth in integrated education (HMSO, 1989). Despite certain misgivings, mainly related to the absence of a clear definition of what constituted ‘integration’, integrationists welcomed the new legislation. Fiona Stephens, NICIE’s first director, described it as a ‘major milestone’ which marked the ‘formal acceptance of integrated education as a legitimate option’. The mould of segregated education had been broken, Educational provision in Northern Ireland had been changed irrevocably and the Order made this official.

From this stage on, through the early and mid 1990s, integrated education in Northern Ireland has grown at a rate which has surprised many, even those researchers whose remit has been to monitor its progress (Dunn, 1989). Including both planned and transformed schools (see definitions in section ‘The developing integrated school system’) the number of integrated schools has quadrupled between 1989 and 1997. Most significantly the number of integrated secondary level schools has increased from 2 in 1990 to 14 in 1997. At the same time overall enrolments have increased from under 2,000 in 1991 to about 7,000 in 1996. Though to insert a note of caution, this figure represents a little over 2% of the total Northern Ireland school population. For those parents seeking an alternative outside the established dual system and for the large number of activists who have contributed enormous amounts of time and energy into founding schools and establishing support structures all this represents a significant achievement. For Northern Irish society as a whole, however, it is a phenomenon which is now creating challenges as well as opportunities and it is with an analysis of these complex interactions that this research project has been concerned.

Integrated schools are no longer a ‘novelty’ in Northern Ireland. For the most part they have ceased to be a focus for the attention even for those rare birds of passage amongst the media who are interested in tracking down a ‘good news’ item from a region accustomed to providing more than its fair share of bleak, tragic stories or negative sound bites from its politicians. After over fifteen years of growth integrated schools now constitute a small but significant element in the jigsaw of educational provision and they are having to negotiate their place within the overall structures. At the same time all the other groups either directly or indirectly involved in providing educational services or shaping educational policy are having to examine and formalise their attitudes and responses. Typical reactions of the 1980s, such as the view that there were so few integrated schools that they could be ignored, are no longer tenable (Dunn, 1986b). We will argue that this process is now at a critical stage for all parties. Driven by financial imperatives the implications of attempting to operate an increasingly fragmented education system within a small administrative unit during a period of fiscal stringency are become increasingly apparent. At the most obvious level the financial constraints imposed by government are beginning to restrict the opening of new integrated schools. This is creating heightened tension both within the integrated movement and between the integrated schools and other educational interests.

It now seems clear that either new accommodations will have to be found through discussion and negotiation between all those concerned with education in Northern Ireland or alternatively a period of increasingly bitter dispute over the division of limited resources could lie ahead. At the same time, we will contend that relationships between the integrated schools and other educational providers while deeply affected by competition for dwindling resources are not determined solely by such considerations. They are also shaped by attitudes buried deep in the psyche of Northern Ireland society and long predating the autumn of 1981 when the first pupil crossed the threshold of Lagan College.

Any examination of current educational issues in Northern Ireland has to be set against the background of historical developments during the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century (Farren, 1995). In 1922 the new Northern Ireland state inherited a pattern of schools which was based principally on the all-Ireland National School system which provided for pupils up to the age of fourteen. In addition there were a range of private foundations, religious and lay, providing education at secondary level. The National Schools were particularly important since they had provided the basis of educational provision throughout Ireland since before the famine. The initial objective of the 1833 Act which established the National Schools was to provide non-denominational mass education. However, over the course of the nineteenth century pressure from all the major churches had ensured that it had become a denominational system in which the government, in return for financial support, had some control over the curriculum but the churches had very considerable power in relation to the management of schools, the employment of teachers and the provision of religious education.

Although there was a desire in some quarters to establish a unified education system for the new state which would be acceptable to Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists, the bitterness and recrimination which marked the early years of Northern Ireland’s existence made it impossible and a dual system evolved. Those former national schools which had been controlled by the Protestant churches were ‘transferred’ to the state and became ‘controlled’ schools, legally non-denominational and open to any pupils but ‘de facto’ Protestant and Unionist in ethos (Protestant clergy retaining a considerable role in their management). As such they were, not surprisingly, attended almost exclusively by Protestant pupils. Unable to reach an agreement under which transfer would be acceptable the Catholic church decided to operate its schools independently. These became known as ‘maintained’ schools and were funded by a combination of contributions from the Catholic population and a partial grant from the government (Akenson, 1973). Initially the controlled and maintained schools provided ‘elementary’ education, They were essentially the equivalent of current primary schools although some pupils remained until about age 14. In addition, there was a limited provision of secondary education through traditional grammar schools, these were managed and funded under different arrangements and referred to a ‘voluntary’ schools, many charged fees and all could be identified with either the Catholic or the Protestant community.

In the period between the 1930s and the 1970s there were some changes, the proportion of the capital funding for the Catholic maintained schools coming from government was increased, the school leaving age was raised and controlled and maintained secondary schools were set up so that all pupils moved at age 11 from a primary to a secondary school. Many of the changes were linked to the Education Act passed by the Stormont Parliament in 1947. This act was strongiy influenced by the debate which produced the 1944 Education Act in Great Britain and indeed many of its provisions paralleled those of the Butler Act. On the other hand the essential features of Northern Ireland’s dual system and the clear separation of the two major denominationally based elements remained unchanged and indeed there was little sign that change was likely. The tentative moves to ameliorate relations between the Catholic and Protestant communities during the O’Neill era barely touched education which remained a clear and reliable marker of community affiliation (Farren, 1995).

The unrest of the late 1960s, the Civil Rights protests and the outbreak of widespread violence did not initially affect education, Indeed many of those working in schools saw them as oases of calm and security. But as the analysis of the causes of bitterness and division progressed another model attracted increasing attention. In this interpretation the dual education system was one major element in a segregated social system which produced Protestants and Catholics with few contacts outside their own section of the community. Children and young people grew up attending separate schools and forming friendships almost exclusively with co-religionists. It seemed only natural and logical to claim that this would affect their adult attitudes and behaviour (Dunn, 1991). Some commentators went further, not only did schools separate children from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, they also transmitted the oppositional elements in the cultures of the two groups through the hidden curriculum and possibly more overtly through the teaching of subjects such as history. The whole issue of the role of education and the impact of the segregated school system rapidly became contentious with claims and counterclaims about the impact of the existing pattern of schooling. One thread in this argument was the suggestion that educating Protestant and Catholic pupils together would have major long term benefits in terms of improved community relations (Morgan, 1996).

Some indirect support for such views was provided by questionnaire based research on the attitudes of young people from the two sections of the community. Studies carried out during the early 1970s suggested that for most young people traditional attitudes were firmly established at an early age (Greer, 1972; Greer, 1979; Greer, 1982; Rose 1971; Rose, 1978). Most young people growing up in Northern Ireland had very little contact with their contemporaries from the other section of the community and this meant that stereotyped perceptions and factual inaccuracies formed the basis of many of their opinions. Whilst such findings caused considerable concern amongst educationalists there were many people connected with the schools who believed that the situation was not quite so bad and that many schools were co-operating across the divide both on an informal basis and through shared activities. This view was undermined by the empirical investigations carried out by the Centre for the Study of Conflict. The report based on this work, ‘Schools Apart’ (Darby, 1991), made it clear that whilst open hostility was rare, contact and cooperation were minimal. This picture of separation tinged by mutual suspicion was reinforced by subsequent studies including ‘Schools Together’ (Dunn, 1991) and the ethnographic case studies carried out by Dominic Murray (Murray, 1985). Whilst research underlined the limited level of cross community interaction, public opinion surveys carried out during the 1970s and 1980s suggested that there was considerable general support for the idea of greater contact at school level and indeed for schools where pupils from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds would be educated together. Some of the findings of such surveys have been questioned on the grounds that people were being asked hypothetical general questions and that this inflated the level of support for cross-community contact but the responses did suggest a general awareness both of the questions surrounding separation in education and of its possible negative impact (Dunn & Cairns, 1992b).

During the 1970s Northern Ireland experienced particularly high levels of violence and with the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike in May 1974, the collapse of the power sharing executive and the imposition of direct rule there was a widespread feeling of hopelessness and disillusion with established political parties and formal governmental structures. A considerable number of people especially amongst those who saw themselves as ‘moderate’ and in favour of approaches such as ‘power-sharing’ were alienated from the increasingly polarised patterns of formal politics. One response to the political stalemate was to turn to alternative social action through community groups and reconciliation groups and a number of organisations which aimed to develop cross-community understanding and trust from grass-roots levels developed, such as the Corrymeela Community and PACE (Protestant and Catholic Encounter). Another area where gradual steps to improve community relations might be effective seemed to be education and so there were a range of relatively low key initiatives aimed at children and schools.

In particular, the reports which had highlighted the lack of contact between the two school systems sparked an interest in trying to develop links. There were informal local initiatives involving individual schools and several curriculum development projects which aimed to help schools address controversial issues relating to community divisions. These included the Northern Ireland Schools Curriculum Project, led by John Malone at Queen’s University, Belfast (Crone, 1979; Crone, 1983) and the School’s Cultural Studies Project based in the New University of Ulster and initially directed by Malcolm Skilbeck (Robinson, 1981). Whilst the curriculum projects had relatively limited direct long term impact, the contacts they helped to establish formed a basis for continuing interaction and discussion amongst professionals at various levels in the education system. By the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s there was interest at a more official level with the Department of Education, the Area Education and Library Boards and the Catholic education authorities all conscious of a need to take some action and seeing the establishment of links between the two sets of schools as an approach to improving community relations which could be developed within existing structures. The Northern Ireland Curriculum Council produced a set of guidelines for work in this area which aimed to support ‘bottom-up’ schemes in which teachers would take the initiative at local level. The term Education for Mutual Understanding was adopted to describe school based activities with an agenda which included improving cross community contact and understanding (NICED, 1988; Whitehouse, 1990; Smith & Robinson, 1992a).

Such developments within the existing separate school systems did not, however, meet the aspirations of all those who saw potential for reducing community divisions through increased interaction between Catholic and Protestant children. Some people envisaged more radical approaches which would allow the option of pupils from different backgrounds going to school together and schools providing an ethos in which the two traditions could be equally valued (Gallagher, 1991). This specific question of creating an ethos within individual schools in which pupils from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds could feel that their traditions were recognised and supported led to the formation of All Children Together. For a considerable period a limited number of secondary age pupils had ‘crossed over’ the community divide to attend high status selective grammar schools. This happened in rural areas and small towns where there was only one easily accessible grammar school and in Belfast where particular schools combined a high academic reputation and a liberal’ tradition. A small group of Catholic parents whose children attended Methodist College, Belfast began to discuss how their children’s religious and cultural needs were being met in a predominantly Protestant environment. From small scale informal beginnings this developed into a wider discussion of the needs of ‘minority’ pupils and began to involve both Catholic and Protestant parents and the even more excluded groups of those from other religions and those who were agnostic or atheist. This crystallised as ACT (All Children Together), a pressure group which began to argue for changes to the school system so that parents who so wished could send their children to a school with a mixed pupil population which would reflect this diversity in its structures and culture. At a practical level, ACT produced proposals in 1976 which outlined how existing schools might become ‘shared schools’ (Vernon, 1991; McMaw, 1995).

Initially, therefore, the hope was that existing schools could be persuaded to change in order to make this possible and the passage of the Dunleath Act in 1978 provided a legislative framework through which schools could become ‘integrated’. This legislation hinged on giving power to the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, to alter the balance of the membership of Boards of Governors of either state (controlled) or Catholic (maintained) schools so that they had representatives from both communities. The argument was that the new mixed governing bodies could then institute other changes which would allow the schools to become integrated. The response was disappointing for the supporters of integrated education since none of the churches used the legislation and three years later parents felt they could wait no longer, hence Lagan College was founded in 1981. (ACT-LETT, 1995). In retrospect it was perhaps naive to expect schools within the dual system to opt for change at least in the short term. They had been so closely identified with their communities for over half a century and Catholic schools in particular represented a huge financial investment and sustained contributions from parish level. Since no existing school seemed likely to change its status, ACT began to consider the need to set up a school to educate roughly equal numbers of pupils from the two traditions side by side in an environment specifically designed to value and respect the religious, cultural and political values of both groups. Such a school, the argument ran ,could serve as an example which might encourage other schools to ‘transform’ along similar lines. This was the thinking which lead to the opening of the first ‘planned integrated’ school, Lagan College (a mixed ability secondary school in south Belfast) ,in 1981. As indicated, the objective of ACT was to provide a ‘demonstration’ not to establish a whole new school system and indeed the issue of expanding by seeking to provide primary schools and schools in other parts of Northern Ireland caused heated debate and some friction. ACT remained cautious about expansion but a second organisation BELTIE (Belfast Trust for Integrated Education) which included some original ACT members, adopted a more expansionist agenda and suggested that the aim should be to provide access to integrated education, for parents who wanted it, across Northern Ireland.

In reality the growth of integrated education during the 1980s was relatively slow, by 1989 there were two secondary schools, including Lagan, and eight primary schools. The major check was finance, under the legislation operated by DENI schools had to ‘prove their viability’ before they could apply for government funding. In effect, this meant the school had to be set up, attract a reasonable initial intake and provide evidence that it could expand and subsequently sustain is enrolment. During this ‘proving period’ both the capital and running costs had to be met from private sources, normally for a period of up to four years. If an integrated school was to be opened a local group had to be formed to take all the initiatives, locating a site, providing acceptable buildings, furnishing them, employing teachers and paying all the bills. Grants and loans from charitable foundations were a major source of support during this period but many individuals had to make considerable personal commitments. The procedures for obtaining government recognition and with it the reimbursement of capital costs and the assumption of responsibility for running costs was a slow and complex procedure so there was pressure on those involved in promoting integrated education across Northern Ireland not to take on too many ‘new starts’ at any given time.

Major changes followed the passage of the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order in 1989 (HMSO, 1989). In some respects this paralleled the 1988 Education Act which affected England and Wales, but it also reflected the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland. In curricula terms the inclusion of Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural heritage as cross-curricular themes signalled the incorporation of material designed to support cross community understanding and contact into statutory provision (Smith & Robinson, 1 992a; Smith 1996). The introduction of new procedures for approving and funding integrated schools was also highly significant both in practical terms by promising speedier recognition and less need for private support and also in a more general sense by signalling acceptance of the schools as an established part of the education system.

‘It shall be the duty of the Department to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education, that is to say the education together at school of Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils’ (Education Reform (N.I.) Order 1989).

At the same time the inclusion in government legislation of a community relations dimension within the curriculum and of encouragement for integrated schools did politicise the relationship between education and community division. Additionally whilst the two elements were portrayed as complementary they could be characterised as competing for limited funding and resources. Thus the Catholic hierarchy and some of those responsible for the state (de facto Protestant) schools made it clear that whilst they supported the emphasis in the new curriculum on developing and extending links between existing schools the allocation of resources to new integrated schools was unfair and unnecessary. This opened up an ongoing controversy and a number of misconceptions have arisen about the level of financial support for integrated education and the prioritising of funding which have continued to sour relations between the two established education sectors and the integrated schools (Wright, 1991; Morgan, 1992c; Dunn & Smith,1995). This tension has also made it more difficult to link initiatives in EMU and Cultural Heritage with developments in integrated education, so that for instance integrated schools have sometimes found it hard to find partner schools in the other sectors for joint work and the controlled and maintained schools have been reluctant to utilise the professional experience of teachers working in integrated schools when devising cross sector work. Occasionally, when interviewing in the ‘established’ sectors, the Research Officer noted instances of a curiously myopic logic which perceives the integrated schools as ‘not needing EMU because they are in themselves "EMU’d" enough already’.

The Developing Integrated School System
As already indicated the first ‘planned integrated school’ Lagan College, opened in 1981 and progress can be charted by the opening dates and locations of schools founded in the intervening 16 years:

School Location

Year of opening

Lagan College IC



Hazelwood College IC



Forge Primary CIPS



Hazelwood IPS



All Childrens’s CIPS



Bridge IPS



Mill Strand IPS



Windmill IPS



Braidside IPS



Enniskillen IPS




Omagh IPS



Portadown IPS



Corran IPS



Oakgrove IPS



Carhill CTPS



Browniow CIC



Acorn IPS



Oakgrove IC



Cranmore IPS



Loughview IPS



Saints and Scholars IPS



Eme IC



Shimna IC



Armagh and South Tyrone IC



Cedar IPS



Drumragh IC



New-Bridge IC



Portaferry CIPS



Rathenraw CIPS



Hilden CIPS



Slemish IC




North Coast IC



Oakwood (Independent)



Malone College (Independent)



Strangford College (Independent)



Ulidia College (Independent)



Annsborough CIPS


Notes :
IC - Grant maintained integrated college, secondary school
CIC - Controlled integrated college, secondary school
IPS - Grant maintained integrated primary school
CIPS - Controlled integrated primary school

Grant-maintained integrated primary schools and colleges come under the direct authority of the Department of Education for Northern freland (DENI). Controlled integrated colleges and primary schools are under the delegated responsibility of one of the five regional Education and Library Boards.

Oakwood and three of the four schools which opened in 1997 (Annsborough ClIPS was a controlled primary school which has ‘transformed’) have been set up without initial government funding and with no commitments from government to take over either capital or running costs. This is a reversion to the pre 1989 procedure.

By January 1998 provisional approval has been granted by DENI for 5 schools to open in September 1998 as integrated schools following transformation from controlled status:
Bangor Central Primary
Kilbroney Primary, Rostrevor, Co. Down
Priory College - Holywood High School - secondary
Forthill High School - Lisburn - secondary
Down Academy - Downpatrick - secondary

The patterns brought out by this listing suggest the interaction of a number of forces. When Lagan College was opened in 1981 it was seen as a ‘special case’ an example which might inspire established schools to change. During the 1980s it became clear that this was unlikely in the prevailing political climate but at the same time the number of parents wanting to send their children to an integrated school grew (Dunn & Cairns, 1992b; Cairns, 1993). This generated the first wave of expansion, which was, however, confined to Belfast with the opening of two primary schools and a second secondary school, Hazelwood, in 1985. Between 1986 and 1991 there was a distinct phase of regional spread with 10 primary schools opening across Northern Ireland (the eleventh, Carhill was an unusual case of an existing controlled school with a traditionally cross community enrolment which transferred to controlled integrated status).

The major changes since 1991 have been the acceleration of growth -21 schools added to the list in six years - and the expansion in secondary provision. Both these developments have had major significance by putting pressure on other parts of the education system and in particular on capital resources. The growth of secondary schools has been especially important, though it was perhaps predictable. As the first cohort of pupils moved through the integrated primary schools the question of what would happen when they reached the stage of transfer to second level education was clearly an issue. Many parents saw re-entry to the dual Catholic/Protestant system as problematic. In some cases when a child qualified, through the selective, examination based transfer procedure, for a grammar school place and there was a grammar school with a ‘liberal’ tradition and some community crossover in the pupil population the option might be acceptable. But where pupils from integrated primary schools were not allocated a grammar school place and they lived in areas with high levels of community segregation their parents often viewed the prospect of their child having to go to a controlled or maintained secondary school as very worrying and even a potential source of such problems as bullying or victimisation. At the same time the very high capital costs of building new secondary schools have made the expansion in second level integrated education an extremely contentious question, one which indeed will be a recurring theme of this report.

The numerical growth of integrated schools is not the only significant feature of the pattern which has developed since 1991. There were also a number of important organisational developments. ACT and BELTIE had acted as sponsoring organisations for some of the first schools whilst in other cases an independent parent group had taken responsibility for establishing a school and managing it during the initial phase. With the expansion in numbers fragmentation became a serious concern especially in relation to interaction with other bodies such as the major charitable foundations who supported schools before the received government funding and the statutory agencies such as DENI and the regional Education and Library Boards. Partially in response to such concerns the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) was set up in 1987. Though the council has a coordinating role it is not a statutory body and so its position is not analogous to the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools (CCMS) or the Area Boards. It has a headquarters in Belfast and a small core administrative staff but its resources are limited and it does not have a formal legal relationship either with the individual integrated schools or with government. Indeed the negotiation of a role for NICIE and the working out of the relationship between individuals schools, NICIE and government bodies is one of the major themes which this study has addressed.

Another organisational development relates to the range of management structures which integrated schools have adopted. When Lagan College gained official recognition and government funding it moved into a relationship with the state education authorities similar to that of the established ‘voluntary grammar schools’. In other words it received its funding directly from DENI rather than through the intermediary of the relevant Education and Library Board. For the first wave of integrated schools this was the preferred transition route - from private funding through recognition by DENI to becoming officially designated as ‘grant maintained integrated schools’ funded directly from DENI. This was recognised as one appropriate management structure for integrated schools in the 1989 Education Reform (NI) Order but the Order also indicated that some integrated schools might prefer a relationship with one of the Education and Library Boards which, whilst safeguarding their integrated status, was more akin to that of the ‘controlled’ schools. Schools adopting this structure were to be officially designated ‘controlled integrated schools’. In addition the issue of ‘transfer’ whereby an existing single tradition school could become formally recognised as integrated was also reactivated by the legislation and consultation procedures to allow this process to occur with the agreement of parents and governors were set out. These alternatives to the ‘grant maintained’ pattern have now been taken up by a number of schools. Two of the first wave primary schools - Forge, Belfast and All Children’s, Newcastle, County Down - have opted to become controlled integrated primary schools and a number of pre-existing controlled primary schools and one secondary school have gone through a transfer process and become controlled integrated schools. These include Carhill and Hilden primary schools which because of their specific local context had a long history of taking pupils from both sections of the community. The background of individual CIP schools is varied, for example, Hilden was formerly a maintained school originally linked to a local textile mill. Its intake traditionally reflected the mixed composition of the original woikforce, this continued over the years and subsequently the school applied for and obtained controlled integrated status under the 1989 legislation. Such schools, therefore, in a sense adopted integrated status as a way of formalising and safeguarding their existing position. Other schools which are now controlled integrated were previously state (de facto Protestant) schools and this route is becoming increasingly common as the list of schools due to become integrated from September 1998 indicates. The reasons why a school with no clear cross community background wishes to become integrated are complex and each case is likely to reflect a specific set of circumstances linked to the location and catchment area of the school and it may also reflect the ideas and personalities of the staff (especially the principal), governors and parents. In some situations shifts in the population structure of the catchment area and/or falling roles may be important practical considerations. If such triggers are combined with pressure in the area for the establishment of an integrated school transfer may provide a quicker and more cost effective route than setting up a ‘green field site’ school. Though this is not to suggest that transfer is straightforward and uncontentious as many organisations are already aware:

‘at present the motivation for transformation must remain purely philosophical as there are no financial incentives for change, wherein lies a problem because, while transformation is undoubtedly cost effective, it is not without challenges which can only be met with additional funding. It is only with the identification and addressing of these problems that the possibility of transformation of schools on a larger scale will become a reality’ (NICIE Report 1994 p 9).

Aims of the Project - Studying the Implications of Growth - Responses and Actions
The rapid growth of integrated education and the structural issues outlined above, set against the complex historical background of a deeply divided society and continuing political instability suggest that the growth of integrated schools in Northern Ireland has now reached a critical stage where difficult decisions about future development will have to be taken by all those involved. The integrated schools still only cater for a very small minority of pupils but they do now constitute a distinct sector and in a small education system with approximately 350,000 pupils, 19,500 teachers and 1,200 schools a set of developments which has led to the opening of 11 entirely new secondary schools within a space of six years has inevitably made a significant impact. There is now an integrated primary school in almost every major population centre and although the travelling distances are considerable in some areas most parents now have the possibility of selecting an integrated primary school for their child. At secondary level this degree of coverage has not quite been reached but given that a considerable number of secondary pupils already travel long distances in Northern Ireland the provision is approaching a level which committed parents may regard as reasonable and acceptable.

Whilst initially the number of integrated schools was too small to have any significant impact on existing schools except in isolated local situations, the 36 (43 from September 1998) schools currently in operation do have an effect on the enrolments of pre-existing schools in several areas and any further growth will significantly increase this impact. This is a sensitive issue at a time when there is an overprovision of school places in some areas and some sectors. For example the introduction of ‘open enrolment’, another outcome of the 1989 reforms, means that schools are allowed to take pupils up to their physical capacity. This has affected the traditional balance between selective and non-selective second level schools. In some situations grammar schools are now taking a considerably higher proportion of the 11 + cohort and the secondary schools in these areas are facing seriously depleted intakes. In addition to the ‘numbers game’ the costs of providing additional schools is proving a very major burden on the capital budget of the Northern Ireland education system. This is especially true in relation to secondary schools where the provision of specialist facilities for the wide range of laboratory based subjects and topics involving practical work make the construction of even a basic set of new buildings from which a school can operate over the first few years of its existence very expensive. A NICIE executive’s comment from their 1994 Annual Report is a useful reminder from the other side of the fence that the 1989 legislation laid a duty on DENI to make payments only ‘in respect of expenditure other than expenditure of a capital nature to newly-established integrated schools’ (Education Reform [NI] Order 1989, p77; HMSO, 1989) and that until these schools were judged viable and buildings transferred to Boards of Governors, NICIE carried and continues to carry the funding and management of capital costs on their behalf.

‘Once again this year, the financial picture has been dominated by premises matters. Portadown and Omagh Integrated Primary School buildings were transferred to the school Board of Governors in March 1994, at a cost of almost £0.5 million each. Not surprisingly, dealing with such large sums of money requires a correspondingly high level ofprofessional advice and support, and professional fees now form a substantial percentage of NICIE’s core costs. NICIE currently holds bank loans in respect of Corran and Oak grove IPS’s, and new loans are being negotiated for premises, as the number of second-level colleges grows. The next few years look set to see a quantum leap in the amount of loans required for premises, as the number of second-level colleges grows. Whereas a cool half million is all (!) that is required for a Primary School, the estimated costs of a second-level college are in the region of £4.5 million. The main difference is that a second-level college must have a permanent build central core in order to house, for example, science labs’ (NICIE Annual report, 1994, p.17).

All these developments have produced a very complex and potentially contentious situation in which the whole range of groups and institutions involved in education at all levels and across all sectors are having to consider options and face the possibility, even probability, of major changes over the next few years. The project on which this report is founded was an attempt to explore some of these issues.

Publication Contents


In ‘Breaking the Mould’ (Morgan, 1992b) a range of questions linked to the founding of the first group of integrated schools was explored. In particular the emphasis was on the motivation of the parents and teachers who were involved in the initial development of specific schools and on the effects which being actively engaged in the early years of the school’s life had on their views of education and, in the case of teachers, their professional prospects (Morgan, 1992a; Morgan 1992d; Morgan 1993a; Morgan 1993b; Morgan 1994). Whilst quantitative data on the schools was collected and provided essential background information, the main method of data collection was by means of semi-structured individual interviews carried out by the project research officer. The material from these was recorded in note form during the interview and written up in full as soon as possible after the interview. This approach, combined with assurance of complete confidentiality and anonymity, proved a very successful methodology since it allowed interviewees to respond at length and in their own style and provided a flexible format in which the interviewer could explore in depth the areas which particular individuals raised.

As a result of this successful experience it was decided that a similar approach would be taken in this study. There were, however, some differences, arising from the emphasis in this project on institutions and structures. Whilst the previous work took three integrated schools - one college and two primary schools - as case studies, in this investigation it was necessary to try to gather data across the Northern Ireland education system. Interviews were, therefore, carried out with a wide range of individuals and groups and in all cases these were conducted by the research officer.

Integrated school principals constituted the largest single group to be interviewed. This included 18 principals from 8 secondary colleges (all the secondary level integrated schools have adopted the title ‘college’) and 9 primary schools. All these schools were ‘planned integrated’ schools and had opened after all the interviews for ‘Breaking the Mould’ had been completed. Effectively, this meant after the Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 (HMSO, 1989) came into force, i.e. schools which opened between September 1990 and September 1996.

At secondary level these were:

Oakgrove College, L/Derry, Co. Londonderry
Erne College, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh
Shimna College, Dundrum, Co. Down (now in re-located in Newcastle, Co. Down)
Armagh/South Tyrone College, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone
Drumragh College, Omagh, Co. Tyrone
New-bridge College, Loughbrickland, Co. Down
Slemish College, Ballymena, Co. Antrim
North Coast College, Coleraine, Co. Londonderry

and at primary level:

Omagh Integrated Primary School, Co. Tyrone
Portadown Integrated Primary School, Co. Armagh
Corran Integrated Primary School, Lame, Co. Antrim
Oakgrove Integrated Primary School, Londonderry, Co. Londonderry
Acorn Integrated Primary School, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim
Cranmore Integrated Primary School, Belfast

Loughview Integrated Primary School, Belfast

Saints and Scholars Integrated Primary School, Armagh, Co. Armagh
Oakwood Integrated Primary School, Derriaghy, Belfast

In addition, the principals of two established controlled schools (i.e. administered by an ELB) which had transferred to controlled integrated status were also interviewed. These were:

Brownlow College, Portadown, Co. Armagh
Carhill Controlled Integrated Primary School, Garvagh, Co. Londonderry

In arranging the interviews with all these integrated school principals a direct approach, usually by telephone, was made, giving a brief outline of the nature of the project and asking for an interview. This was then followed up by sending the principal an information sheet summarising the aims of the project and listing the various concerns which the research officer hoped to address during the interview (see Appendix A). In a few cases, mainly due to pressures on the principal’s time during the first interview, a subsequent follow-up interview also took place. The format for these interviews is shown in Appendix B.

At the beginning of the fieldwork the research officer also had informal consultations with a small number (4) of integrated school principals who had been interviewed during the ‘Breaking the Mould’ project. The information gained from these discussions played an invaluable part in helping the research officer and the director of the project to reassess and either retain or discard a number of ‘loose-thread’ issues from the concluding sections of ‘Breaking the Mould’. For example the evolution of relationships between the main churches and the integrated schools is one such ‘loose-thread’ issue which we had to reassess - one which is actually still largely unresolved. By refocusing the researchers on recent developments in such areas these discussions also assisted them in formulating a framework of questions for subsequent interviews with the ‘new’ or ‘second wave’ group of principals and other parties interested or involved in the role of integrated schools within the pattern of educational provision in Northern Ireland.

A third group of principals was also interviewed. These were principals from non integrated secondary schools located in an area where an integrated college was about to open. They provided a small scale case study of how such principals might view the imminent opening of an integrated college and what effects, if any, they felt it might have on their school. We hoped that this data would provide another perspective to set against the comments made by the principals of integrated schools about their relationships with other schools in the same area. Five principals were contacted, via their school offices, three agreed to be interviewed, one continually demurred and the other proved incommunicado. As well as offering some very interesting insights into how integrated schools are perceived in the community this case study served as an important reminder of the extreme sensitivity of some of the issues involved. The format for these interviews is shown in Appendix C.

Another set of interviews was carried out with representatives of those organisations considered to have an interest in and/or an involvement in the administration of either primary or secondary education in Northern Ireland. The organisations contacted and interviewed were:

  • Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE)
  • Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI)
  • Area Education and Library Boards (ELBs)
    (for a variety of reasons it was possible to arrange interviews in only 4 of the 5 Area Boards)
  • Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS)
  • Teaching Unions
Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO)
National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT)
National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women
Teachers (NASUWT)
Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU)

There are a number of other teaching unions which were not included in the study since the four above represent those to which most Northern Ireland teachers who are union members belong. There is no separate union specifically for teachers in integrated education and from discussions with union representatives it appears that as a result, experienced teachers taking up a post in an integrated school usually stay in their original teaching union. However, two ‘integrated associations’, one for principals and the other for teachers, have emerged. These currently appear to be relatively informal and to meet on a monthly basis to discuss issues of particular relevance to the integrated schools e.g. parental involvement, special inservice training needs.

In arranging interviews with all these organisations approaches were made either by letter or telephone. The government bodies were initially contacted formally by letter, in the case of DENI this was sent to the permanent secretary and in the case of the ELBs initial contact was with the chief officer/executive. The letter included information about the research project and requested permission for the Research Officer to interview the DENI or ELB officers involved with integrated education. The actual choice of an appropriate representative was, therefore, left to the discretion of the organisation concerned. In the case of DENI, an interview at which a principal officer and a deputy principal officer jointly presented the department's views was provided. The format is shown in Appendix D. In the ELBs a range of patterns emerged. one chief officer made himself available for interview and also arranged for the research officer to interview those board officers who had been given particular responsibility for liaising with grant maintained integrated schools and schools considering transforming to controlled integrated status within the board area. In two other cases chief officers/executives delegated the task of presenting the board’s perspective to senior education officers. In the other ELB responsibility for the interview was delegated to an education officer. The overall pattern was:

ELB Interviewee/s
A 1 C/O, 2 SEOs
C 1 EO

* The interview format is shown in Appendix E.

The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NI CIE) had to be viewed as a distinct case in terms of interviews. Its personnel aim to offer comprehensive support to existing integrated schools and to parent groups planning new schools. Such support ranges from coordinating financial planning to running training courses for newly appointed school governors. In addition it maintains links with DENI and the ELBs and monitors actual and potential changes in policy and legislation. Because the pace of change in integrated education was rapid throughout the life time of this project interaction with NICIE was extremely valuable in trying to make sense of the complex mechanisms and interactions shaping the education scene in Northern Ireland. Interviews with NICIE personnel were, therefore, arranged, as far as possible, on a regular on going basis. These meetings almost always took the form of updates on what had happened/was happening seemed likely to happen. As such they rarely followed a set format. The chief executive and the senior development officers in particular were interviewed on numerous occasions and some of the shorter interviews were conducted over the telephone.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools was established under government legislation in 1989. It provides a management structure for Catholic schools in much the same way as the ELBs do for controlled schools. It was, therefore, important to hear what its senior personnel felt about how the policy to ‘encourage and facilitate’ integrated education was operating and how it might impact on Catholic education. The director of CCMS was interviewed using the format set out in Appendix F.

The penultimate group of interviewees were drawn from the regional administrators of the major teaching unions in Northern Ireland. These were the generals secretaries/regional officers of the INTO, NAHT, NASUWT and UTU. When taken together these organisations provide professional representation for around 20,000 teachers, principals and vice-principals in Northern Ireland schools. This, of course, includes members actually employed in integrated schools. We were particularly interested in viewpoints from these officials in order to gain insights into the concerns of those ‘at the chalk face’ in relation to integrated education. The interview format is shown in Appendix G.

Since integrated education has always been a highly ‘political’ issue in Northern Ireland and both political parties and individual politicians have on a number of occasions expressed strong views we also sought formal interviews with representatives of the major political parties. For almost three decades the political scene in Northern Ireland has fluctuated between periods of stalemate and periods of frenetic activity. The timescale of this project largely coincided with one of the latter. Cease-fires began and ended, loyalism continued to splinter with the emergence of the ‘fringe’ loyalist parties, there was controversy over marches and parades and official and unofficial opposition both to the holding and the banning of marches. The marching issue twice brought the province to the brink of uncontrolled violence and even possibly civil war whilst at the same time the ‘peace process’ limped on with some political parties walking out and others striving to get in. In May 1997 a landslide victory at the polls for the Labour party brought a new government to Westminster and a new Secretary of State to Stormont. Amid all this it did not surprise us that there was minimal response from the political parties to our requests for interviews on integrated education. Realistically, we knew that education was never likely to have been top of their agenda during this period. In addition the smaller newly-emerging parties lacked the kind of resources in personnel available to the established parties. In the end we were able to obtain interviews with only one group, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and we draw on this in our text where appropriate. The format of the interview is shown in Appendix H.

In addition to these planned approaches to specific groups, the opportunity was taken when it arose to interview relevant subjects from outside the main target groups described above. For example there were informal interviews with a number of parent governors of GMI and CIS schools. Again such viewpoints are included in the report where appropriate.

In total 68 interviews with 48 individuals were carried out. The average duration of an interview was about one and a half hours, with a minimum of about 45 minutes and a maximum of almost three hours.

When we began this project our approach reflected our concern with those issues which had seemed to us to be significant but unresolved at the time of the fieldwork for ‘Breaking the Mould’, roughly three years before. These are the issues we have termed ‘loose threads’ (Morgan, 1992b). Inevitably, perhaps, in the light of the long tradition of clerical influence and control of education in Ireland, the relationship between the integrated schools and the main churches was prominent among these. However, as the new round of interviews with principals progressed, it became obvious that the role of the churches no longer concerned principals in the same way. It was not that the issue had gone away, m fact, in attitudinal terms, with some notable exceptions among individual clergy, things seemed much as before. It was more a case of principals and their staff putting matters into a different perspective and shifting their priorities, as the interview data will show. At the same time it was clear that it was relations with local clergy rather than central pronouncements which had the most actual impact on integrated schools. However, we decided that it would have been impossible in the time available to talk to the clergy of the main churches who worked within the catchment area of every integrated school visited by the research officer and that the alternative, a series of interviews with official church representatives, would be of limited value. As a result we reluctantly decided to restrict ourselves to asking the principals about their interactions with the clergy and relevant questions formed a part of the interview with each principal. In addition, use was made of relevant documentation including reports by and to church bodies, submissions to government bodies from the churches and newspaper coverage.

A final specific source on non interview data was generated by a high profile legal action. During the final months of the project the research officer was able to monitor the progress of an important legal challenge brought against DENI by an ‘integrated parent’ since this attracted considerable publicity and was played out largely in the public domain. The application for a judicial review by a parent with a child attending Oakwood Independent Integrated Primary School was heard in Belfast High Court in January 1997. Lord Justice Kerr’s decision in the case was finally issued in December 1997. We considered the outcome of this case and the controversy surrounding it to have such significance for the future of integrated education as well as for the interpretation by government of the wider principal of parental choice, that the research officer attended the court hearings and maintained a close interest in the case over the intervening months. Relevant data obtained during this period, therefore, forms part of the report and is included in the section ‘current crucial issues’.

Analysis of data collected in this way, particularly semi-structured interview data, poses a range of problems which are reflected in the literature relating to qualitative, case study and ethnographic research (Burgess, 1984; Burgess, 1985; Robson, 1993; Jones, 1996; Scheurich, 1997). These include the subjective element in the selection and interpretation of material from raw interview data and the need to structure the information which has been gathered in order to present in coherent form, a process in which the researcher is consciously or unconsciously imposing elements of her/his own values and ideology.

Against this background the main body of the report will first present the perspectives of those directly involved with integrated schools and integrated education concerning the progress of the last sixteen years and the possible directions of future development. A range of views on these same issues from other pails of the Northern Ireland education system will then be presented. Since this ‘sector’ approach can produce a rather fragmented picture a short section in which a number of specific questions and incidents which illustrate the interactions of the various groups and positions will be also be presented. This ‘issues’ section will focus on questions which are currently creating debate and a degree of friction especially between supporters of integrated education and government bodies, these include the Oakwood judicial review, the opening of new schools in autumn 1997 and the criteria for ‘transformation’ of existing schools to integrated status. Finally in the conclusion a number of possible options or scenarios for the future will be examined briefly in a rather more speculative discussion. At the same time in a field where there is constant change and complex interaction it is difficult to isolate the actions and reactions of the different individuals, groups and organisations, therefore, it will not always be possible, or appropriate, to stick to a rigid structure.

Inevitably there will be sections where in analysing the views of one organisation, group or individual the overall pattern of the initiatives and the responses of other groups have to be brought in although this may result in an element of repetition.

Publication Contents

© Centre for the Study of Conflict and the Author(s)
Last Modified by Martin Melaugh :

Back to the top of this page