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Text: Grace Fraser and Valerie Morgan ... Page Design: Fionnuala McKenna
IN THE FRAME
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
PERSPECTIVES FROM THE INTEGRATED SCHOOLS
At different phases in the development of the schools different issues have taken centre stage. In the first years the practicalities of funding and the detailed arrangements surrounding the establishment of each new school were the crucial issues which absorbed the time and attention of activists (McGaffin, 1987; Marriott, 1989; McGaffin, 1990; Morgan, 1992d). As schools became established the provision of denominational religious education and relationships with the churches, particularly the Roman Catholic church were matters of serious concern (Agnew, 1992; McEwen, 1993; Salters &McEwen, 1993; Morgan & Fraser, 1995). During the late 1980s and early 1990s the implications of the provisions relating to integrated education in the Education Reform Order were a major concern. During this period attention was also given to negotiating the new forms of relationships between parents and teachers which arose from situations in which parents had been directly responsible for the foundation of schools and the appointment of teachers including the principals.
The most important concerns now seem to arise from the rate of expansion in the number of schools. Can expansion continue? Can the opening of new schools continue to be funded? Is it realistic to envisage schools which are operating with temporary facilities getting new permanent buildings within the next five years? Will there be a shift in the balance between opening new ‘green field’ integrated schools and integrated schools which are the result of the transformation of existing schools? What conditions and resources are necessary for successful transformation? These were the main areas which questions focused on in the interviews with NICIE and people involved with individual schools.
Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education
The first integrated schools were established by groups of parents in particular areas, sometimes acting through ACT or BELTIE, but the question of co-ordinating the expansion of integrated education proved a complicated question and even now to characterise it as an ‘integrated school movement’ would not be acceptable to all those involved. However, there was pressure both from those directly connected with the schools and also from organisations which provided some of the initial funding and government departments to have some central body which could represent the interests of the integrated sector. As a result NICIE was set up in 1987, initially with funding from charitable foundations. Since 1991 it has been partially supported by DENI as part of the department’s statutory responsibility under the 1989 Reform Order to ‘encourage and facilitate’ integrated education (HMSO, 1989).
NICIE’s role is to ‘assist the development of integrated education and schools in Northern Ireland for the public benefit’. Under this umbrella the organisation has helped and advised groups of parents seeking to establish new schools and continued work with schools in areas such as staff recruitment, curriculum development and the provision of training, e.g. for new governors of integrated schools (NICIE, 1991; NICIE, 1994). The relationship with individual schools and parents groups is, however, an informal and voluntary one and its closeness and cordiality has varied. In some cases principals expressed clear appreciation and praise for the help they had received from NICIE but there were also cases where responses were more negative. In addition NICIE played a significant role in the development of a Statement of Principles which was agreed by the then existing integrated schools in 1991 (NICIE, 1991). This statement emphasises the importance of religious balance not only amongst pupils but also in teaching and non-teaching staff and on the governing body. There are also links between NICIE and the Integrated Education Fund a trust set up in 1992 and funded by the European Community, the United Kingdom government and a number of international funding bodies and charities. This helps to support new schools during their initial phases of development before the government takes over capital costs and is now supporting the schools which have been refused government recognition over the last two years.
Against this background NICIE clearly has links with all the elements in the complex jigsaw of institutions and individuals directly involved in or having strong views about integrated education. At the same time as a non-statutory body its responsibilities and influence can often be difficult to define or to some of those involved contentious. As a result there has been an on-going process of informal negotiation over NICIE’s role and remit. Not surprisingly, therefore, there have been occasions on which relations with groups of parents seeking to establish a new school have been strained because of differing views about the advisability of pursuing a particular initiative at a particular time or about detailed issues such as the suitability of potential sites. Similarly tensions have sometimes existed between existing schools and NICE over things such as the provision of in-service support and involvement in curriculum development (Graham, 1990).
If there are ambiguities in relationships within integrated education there are even more complexities in the links between NICIE and government bodies, especially government as mediated through DEN!. During the early years of the development of integrated education the unpredictable emergence of new parent groups seeking to set up a school and the need to negotiate with each such group separately was an unfamiliar scenario for DEN!. Officials were more familiar with working through the Area Education and Library Boards or the structured mechanisms of the Catholic education authorities and the voluntary grammar schools. Partially as a result of such experiences DENI encouraged the development of NICIE as a co-ordinating body and may have seen it as a potential equivalent to the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS). At the same time the voluntary origins of NICIE and the problematic relationship between the pioneers of integrated education and government mean that interactions have continued to have an ambiguous and potentially adversarial element.
Currently the interactions between NICE and DEN! display such contradictions and complexities very clearly and indeed touch on some of the central issues and questions relating to the future of integrated education in Northern Ireland. Since 1991 DEN! has provided some of the financial support for NICIE and as a result DEN! has the right to nominate four members of the NICIE board of directors. This has raised questions of conflict of interest and also some practical questions. At the functional level although there is a formal agreement that DEN! should nominate four directors, there have been difficulties in filling the places. This may be no more than an example of a wider issue since under ‘direct rule' nominated representatives serve on a wide range of public bodies, quangos and voluntary agencies and there is some evidence that the volume of work and levels of accountability now required for such, usually unpaid, posts is making it difficult to recruit high quality candidates. Certainly in relation to DEN! representatives on NICIE it was suggested to the researcher that ‘DEN! are desperate to get people to do this’ and that even when nominees are found they do not always find it possible to devote much time to attending meetings. In selecting representatives DEN! usually consult with NICIE but there was a suggestion that they ask NICIE about suitability and expertise, ‘but tend to put their own people on anyway’. Whatever the reality and the lines of responsibility this generates the view that these individuals are ‘pro DENI’. This poses problems especially when, as at present, there are serious disagreements over the interpretation of legislation and disputes escalating to litigation.
The crucial issue around which these problematic issues centre is expansion. One of NICIE’ s core functions is to encourage the spread of integrated education and to support groups of parents seeking to set up integrated schools. The 1989 Education Reform (NI) Order also commits government to encouraging and facilitating integrated education where there is parental demand for such provision. Initially there appeared to be little conflict of interest between NICIE and DENI. When interest in the provision of a new school developed in an area, NICLE assisted the parent group in the process of establishing evidence of viability in terms of provisional enrolments and in fulfilling requirements relating to site, buildings and appointment of staff. DENI had to approve these arrangements and if they did prove acceptable and formal recognition was granted DENI would then be committed to paying the recurrent costs of the new school i.e. wages of teaching staff and provision of basic equipment, from the time it opened. After three years if the school was proving ‘viable’ usually taken to mean a regular, sustainable annual intake and acceptable teaching standards, government would take over the capital costs, either by purchasing the premises the school was already using or by providing new premises.
This apparently clear procedure has come under increasing strain as its resource implications have grown. A new primary school involves capital costs of approximately a million pounds whilst the capital costs of a secondary school are about three or four million pounds. Between 1992 and 1996 eight integrated secondary schools opened. NICIE recognises that expenditure on this scale raises serious issues for government but believes that currently these are not being approached openly and constructively. They interpret DENI’s actions as trying to slow down expansion and prevent the opening of new integrated schools by changing the ‘viability’ criteria to make it more difficult for a new school to gain recognition.
‘Three new integrated colleges opened in 1997 without grant maintained status ... the change in the various criteria introduced in July 1996 enabled the Education minister not to award recognition or grant-aid to any of the colleges’ (NICIE 1996/7 Annual Report p7, 1997).
NICIE also see DENI’s encouragement of ‘transformation’, the process by which existing schools can change their status and become integrated, as driven to a considerable degree by expediency and also under researched and under resourced.
All this has meant that over the last three years an increasing proportion of NICIE’s work has involved a degree of conflict and confrontation. In some ways the situation has returned to that experienced in the initial phase of development when there were struggles over the opening of each school and long periods of uncertainty about finances. The major difference being that in the earlier phase the schools were outside the formal structures and felt that much of the difficulty arose because they did not ‘fit’ established categories whilst now they are part of a set of structures which themselves act as constraints.
Experiences of School Principals
The principals of integrated schools now constitute a much larger group than at the time of the earlier research project but they continue to display the characteristics identified in earlier study (Morgan, 1992d). Interview data indicate that they retain very high levels of motivation and commitment, work long hours and have an extensive range of responsibilities especially during the early stages of a school’s development. As individuals they have been attracted to integrated education from a wide range of backgrounds but there is frequently some history of involvement with cross community work. For example, the principal from a Catholic background who worked in a controlled (de facto Protestant) school which was shifting to a majority Catholic enrolment as a result of demographic change in the area or the principal from a Protestant background who had been EMU co-ordinator in an Education and Library Board serving a majority Catholic population.
Whilst in the late 1980s principals had no previous experience in integrated education, by the mid 1990s, primary principals in particular often came from a post in another integrated school and a career ladder within integrated education was being established. In addition some of the fears expressed in ‘Breaking the Mould’ about teachers being unable to move from integrated schools into the controlled or maintained sectors were also diminishing as examples of such moves became more common and accepted (Morgan, 1994).
For almost all the principals their primary concern was with the development of their own school, its growth in terms of enrolment and adequate physical provision. In the months before a new school opened the main issue for the principal was securing the number of pupils required to ensure DENI recognition - and the accompanying recurrent finding - from the first day of opening. Problems had arisen because of what the principals saw as repeated 'shifting the goal posts’ changes in the date by which enrolments had to be confirmed and the minimum number of enrolments required. The principals believed that DENI brought in changes primarily to make it more difficult for a new school to qualify and to slow down the expansion of integrated education. This they interpreted as a manipulation of the requirement that the department ‘facilitate and encourage’ integrated education where there was parental demand and they felt that it was based on financial rather than educational imperatives. Some principals appointed to new integrated schools also complained that they were not given leave from their existing post during the summer term to prepare for the new appointment they were about to take up. It was alleged that such leave was available when staff were appointed to new principalships within the established controlled or maintained systems.
Paradoxically whilst DENI’s actions before a school opened were interpreted as designed to prevent expansion, once a school was in operation some principals experienced departmental pressure to expand rapidly and move towards a higher capacity than they had planned. This they again interpreted as financially driven in the sense that unit costs would be lower for a larger school and their expansion could be used to relieve pressure on other schools in areas experiencing overall growth in the school age population. The question of maintaining or expanding the enrolment of an existing school was complicated by the issue of balancing numbers from the two sections of the community. From the outset one of the basic objectives of integrated education was balance and this was initially defined as a ratio amongst all those involved with a school within the range 40% - 60% for each tradition. Over time the central concern with balance has remained but defining what is desirable or acceptable has become rather more complex. An increasing number of parents who wish to enrol their children either come from religious traditions outside the Christian Protestant/Catholic dichotomy, have no religious affiliation or do not wish to label themselves or their children. Establishing a balance between Catholic, Protestant and ‘others’ may now be a more realistic reflection of reality for most integrated schools. In other contexts the composition of the population in a school’s catchment area make a 60% - 40% balance unrealistic and flexibility may be necessary, although schools have been reluctant to move beyond a 70% - 30% balance in either direction because of concerns that a small minority may feel threatened or swamped. In addition there is increasing evidence that Catholic and mixed marriage parents have shown more interest in sending their children to integrated schools than Protestant parents and this has added to problems with maintaining balance in some cases. For example, it was suggested in interviews relating to the opening of one of the secondary schools that Protestant parents were reluctant to make a firm commitment to enrol their children until the principal was appointed but that when an experienced and respected Protestant was confirmed as the first principal this seemed to reassure a number of those who had been uncertain.
Buildings and physical provision were a recurring problem for almost all the principals,
‘managing growth, not only in pupils but also in the accommodation required, remains a key issue exercising the needs of school Principals and Boards of Governors across the integrated school sector. Every school opened since 1994 which is faced with additional accommodation needs is being forced down a "mobile-type" route for the additional space needed. The timing of DENI’s decisions continues to frustrate both the planning and the time-tabling of buildings for NICIE as well as the schools. Everyone who has had the opportunity to visit the new Hazelwood IFS building or Bridge IPS can only marvel at what can be provided in the form of a permanent built school. Hazelwood College and Oakgrove primary are well underway to realise the same end. Those schools entirely in mobile and left languishing in category six status were delivered a further body blow in the Department’s 1996 review, when the bottom three categories effectively fell out of consideration probably for the next ten years. Schools which opened in 1995 and 1996 are pressing on with core and mobile designs for occupation during 1998, seeking to meet the established and growing demand for integrated places’ (NICIE Annual Report 1996/7 p8, 1997).
During the 1980s when the first schools were established there was an acceptance of ‘making do’ and almost a pride in being able to cope in old factory buildings, church halls and collections of temporary buildings (McGaffin, 1990; Moffat, 1993). But this was against a background of expectation that things would quickly improve and both existing integrated schools and new foundations saw the 1989 Education Order as the basis for translating hopes into reality. As already indicated rapid expansion has created tensions, especially in relation to the building programme for integrated schools. Plans for new permanent buildings are being modified, delayed or rejected on cost grounds. DENI‘s view of the situation will be analysed in a later section but, from the principals’ perspective, promises are being broken and the future of schools jeopardised. They see the prospect of having to stay in unsuitable buildings, such as former office buildings dating from the 1960s, for an indefinite period rather than the 2 or 3 years they had originally envisaged. Schools which have been operating in a set of mobile classrooms for over 10 years ago have no firm date for a move. Even when a building programme is approved it usually comprises a scaled down version of the plans a school had submitted and ‘the permanent "core" with mobiles’ is currently the model favoured by DENI. This comprises a conventionally built administrative block, assembly hail and technical support facilities and a series of temporary buildings housing most of the teaching space. In this context principals of grant maintained integrated schools who had experienced the same level of responsibility under an Education and Library Board now found themselves handling a relationship with DENI rather than the Board. Although the general view was that the Integrated Branch staff were helpful one primary principal said he felt ‘shabbily treated’ by DENI. ‘In terms of landlords, I have gone from the best to the worst’. This principal felt that the effect was to seriously hinder the growth of the school. When interviewed early in 1995 he had concluded that, because of inadequate accommodation, he was ‘losing one family a week’ in terms of recruitment. A secondary college principal, interviewed in late 1996 just before the cutting of the first sod for what he described as ‘another mobile city’, was perhaps understandably disappointed and bitter in his condemnation of DENI, ‘it is an abdication of government responsibility, a betrayal’. At the same time he felt that anything was better than what he had had to contend with in terms of accommodation up to that point.
Not all principals expressed their views in such strong terms. Yet it was clear throughout the research that fears of the creation of a two tier system of integrated schools had some foundation. From about 1995 DENI began to retreat from favouring ‘new start’ integrated schools. By mid 1996 this policy had become official and transformation was clearly the preferred option with repercussions in terms of the attitude to new building projects. As early as January of that year the principal of an integrated college, then in its first year, described everyone involved in integrated education, particularly NICLE, as being ‘worn down’ by DENI. Expectations had clearly been high,
‘I would not have believed this time last year that we would have to settle for the type of buildings now being proposed by DENI’.
When the previous research was completed principals were conscious of how much of their time was utilised on questions relating to buildings and finance and hoped that the balance would soon shift to allow more priority to be given to curriculum development and examining the ways in which the educational experience provided in integrated schools could be structured in order both to ensure academic excellence and to make a contribution to improved community relations. As is clear from the previous paragraphs practical problems have not diminished in the way the principals had hoped. In addition the introduction of a statutory common curriculum has changed the nature of school based curriculum development so that although there is scope for work on approaches to teaching in an integrated environment the actual content of syllabi is in large measure externally specified. Consequently there has been less activity in curriculum development than might have been expected. For example in the early 1990s NICIE initiated some work in the area of equity and equality under the title of ‘The Anti Bias Curriculum’ but the schools did not identify this as a priority area and there was limited take up. One principal saw this as an example of NICIE being ‘divorced from real life’. There was little point in them issuing ‘diktats’ to principals whose schools had just opened and who were having to cope with ‘real priorities’ of buildings, equipment and staffing. Some of the integrated schools are involved in specific curriculum initiatives, for example, the development of peer mediation programmes but such activities reflect the decisions of individual principals and their colleagues rather than a distinct feature of the integrated schools. Such issues raise again the wider question of the distinctiveness of integrated schools and whether this should go beyond their mixed enrolment and staffing.
Another area in which the pioneers hoped to break new ground was in relationships between staff and parents. Parental involvement and partnership were stressed by the groups involved in founding many of the schools although as the previous research indicated working such new relationships out in practice was from the outset complex and delicate. In discussing the role of parents, principals now suggest that with over ten years of experience they believe that the schools are finding a balance between professional judgement and responsibility and active parental support. From their perspective there are some difficulties, for example, a small number of cases occur in which the parents of pupils who have had learning or behavioural difficulties in a one or more of other schools see an integrated school as ‘the answer’ and if the pupil’s problems re-emerge in the new setting there may be disappointment and recriminations. Parents with very strong clear views and deep commitment play a vital role in the founding of new integrated schools but they can find it difficult to ‘hand over’ to the principal and teaching staff once the school is operational. Principals felt that this was no longer a question specific to integrated schools since the ‘parents’ charter’ and the official encouragement of ‘parental involvement’ across the education system meant that all schools were renegotiating their relationships with parents (DENI, 1992). The term ‘open policy’ was preferred to parental involvement by some principals since this covered a wider range of links with the whole community in which the school was located. As before, however, there was as much concern about maintaining contacts and interest as about over interference. It remained difficult for many parents to be clear about what sort of involvement they wanted or how they could make an active contribution so principals felt there was still a lot to do in finding ways of facilitating parental involvement and explaining terms like ‘open policy’.
Relationships within their own school were not the only ones which principals were asked about. The principals of most of the schools had met regularly with varying levels of formality during the early period of the development of integrated education whilst at the same time finding it difficult to make contacts with principals in other sectors. The growth in the number of integrated schools had a two fold effect: it was no longer as easy to arrange for all the principals to meet regularly and also there was more divergence in their interests and experience. Thus there were now many more secondary principals and they had specific common concerns but the wide geographical spread of the schools and the heavy administrative loads they were carrying made regular meetings difficult. Additionally the principals who had been appointed before 1991 in the period when integrated schools had had to find their own capital and recurrent funding for several years were conscious of a distinct set of shared experiences. Practical issues such as considerable differences in pay levels for principals approved by the Boards of Governors of individual schools had also introduced some division. In 1995 the principals’ association divided into two sub groups, one for primary and one for secondary. The newer principals sometimes expressed irritation engendered by attendance at meetings where ‘the old guard’ had a tendency to blame everyone else for their problems. A predilection to ‘moan’ and frequent lack of focus were also cited as reasons for dissatisfaction with principals’ meetings. At the same time members of the groups did acknowledge that there had been a need to ‘get things off their chest’ but they believed that, having done this, the time had come to ‘tip the agenda towards matters of policy and structure’. From late 1995 onwards principals views did reflect a greater degree of optimism about their group meetings. Given the persistence of the ‘chill factor ‘in their relationships with schools in the established sectors, it seems inevitable that for the foreseeable future most of the principals of integrated schools will continue to depend on others in similar contexts for what one of then described as ‘collegial support’.
One of the reasons the principals had maintained close links in the earlier period had indeed resulted from their feelings of isolation. Over time their contacts with other principals in their immediate area had in most cases seen some improvement. Change had usually been gradual and with contacts being built up over time often through attendance at in-service courses and meetings set up by DENI or the Area Boards to explain aspects of the new curriculum requirements of administrative structures. At the same time there could still be tensions especially if the integrated school was expanding rapidly and could be seen as a threat to enrolment in other local schools. At secondary level, because of demographic change in some areas and the impact of ‘open enrolment’ relations were more likely to be frosty. This was a sensitive area which some of the principals were very aware of, as one said ‘we need to understand why they can hurt. We need to listen’. Towards the end of the data collection period we felt that there was growing consciousness amongst the staff of the integrated schools that they were sometimes perceived as self righteous and ‘holier than thou’ by teachers in the controlled and maintained schools and that establishing better relations would involve adjustments on both sides.
Similarly in terms of relationships with the churches there had been no dramatic change but a gradual ‘thawing’. Initially the reluctance of most clergy to visit the schools, problems over the admission of Catholic pupils to the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation and outright opposition and condemnation from some clergy had been very major concerns. Overtime the principals reported that co-operation had developed but it was important to maintain a low key and non-threatening approach. Local clergy were asked to visit the schools and attend special events but it was important to be ‘non-confrontational’. One principal stressed that it was essential to be relaxed and appreciative, ‘sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t - but they are not chased up by the school. Whilst another suggested it was essential to be positive, ‘we thank them for whatever they do -praise is more productive’. Channelling contact through the principal, rather than having a large number of teachers and parents approaching local clergy, was also seen as a wise approach, though overall, it did seem that this is still a sensitive area where progress is dependent on the skills and connections of individual principals.
Parents and Governors
The input of parents and governors has been touched on in the discussion of the concerns of principals and although this was a major area of investigation in the previous research study it was not as central in this investigation. In relation to school governors there have been considerable changes in their roles and responsibilities across all sectors in the wake of the 1989 education reforms and it has been argued that as a result fewer people have been prepared to undertake the task. In the case of the integrated schools it seems that there have been problems in securing suitable DENI nominated governors but a number of parents remain keen to serve as parent governors. Indeed there has been competition for these places and suggestions that in a number of cases disappointment and some bad feeling has followed the election of parent governors. There have even been rare instances of attempts by those who have been unsuccessful to try to establish their influence through other channels, for example, the parents’ council, creating considerable friction in the process. This has to be understood against a background of groups of very committed parents who put a great deal of time and effort into establishing a school and then find that there are limited opportunities for continued involvement in decision making once the school is operational. In our previous study, ‘Breaking the Mould’ we raised the question of whether the founding group involved in setting up a school has a ‘shelf life’. Principals interviewed for this research confirmed that this was an issue, suggesting that as a result of the specific way in which they were founded integrated schools have had and will continue to have difficulties in negotiating their relationships with parents, especially those who were involved in setting up the school. The schools had been founded originally by parents meeting, for the most part, on an informal basis, often in each other’s homes. Such structures were very different from those of a formally constituted body such as a Board of Governors as one principal said,
‘the change over from one to the other is the difficulty .... the notion of informality is perpetuated, unpunctuality - bad, loose chairmanship’.
‘Breaking the Mould’ also referred to some principals’ view that there was a need for ‘line drawing’ between themselves and parents. The putting down of markers to denote the differing rights and responsibilities of teachers and parents was something which became clear at an early stage in this study. Whilst the problem of friction between school staff and individual parents remains, and is common to all schools, the overall patterns of interaction between parents and staff in integrated schools now reflect greater structure and balance. In part the easing of immediate financial pressures (for most of the schools) and the integration into formal Board or DENI structures has helped by allowing principals and staff to re-establish the centrality of their educational responsibilities. Horrendous work loads do still create difficulties - those principals who have had experience of principalship in non-integrated schools state emphatically that their workload increased dramatically with the move. But for many of those in schools which have been established for several years there is more time to think about mainstream educational issues. It is almost impossible to quantify change in this area but over the three years of the project the Research Officer was impressed by the increasing climate of settled professionalism in the schools.
We believe that this development will be the single most important factor determining the long term nature of the parent-school relationship. As principals and staff continue their 'normal' teaching and administrative duties the initial links forged between the founder group and the first appointees is bound to become less significant. ‘Breaking the Mould’ noted the difficulty of ‘letting go’. The late Frank Wright believed that a financially easier, government led, path to integration deprived founding groups of the strong bonds forged when a group had to engage struggle over a lengthy period to get their school. (Wright, 1991). During the early 1990s a number of integrated schools went from initial planning to opening in six months On the other hand the new climate of the late 1990s may mean a return to some of the features of the early period, as one principal who felt doomed to desperately inadequate accommodation for the foreseeable future said, ‘setting up a school can take twenty or thirty years!’
Developing teacher professionalism has not been the sole preserve of the integrated sector. Successive governments have demanded higher and higher standards from all parts of the education system as part of the continuing emphasis on accountability. Integrated schools must survive in this increasingly competitive environment. At the same time, if integrated schools are to maintain a distinctive ethos, not only do the teachers have to be as professional as other teachers but their task has to be accomplished within the framework in which that ethos has placed them. A key element of that framework is a high and distinctive level of parental involvement. This may mean a continual redefinition of the relationship between themselves and the parents of their pupils.
‘In the midst of all this, integrated teachers still have to stop and think about where they are, why they are there and what they are trying to do. If they fail to do this in a consistent way.
then the schools may fall far short of their original objectives.
This prompts the question: If this is what all teachers should be doing anyway, what is the difference? The difference lies in what is at stake. For integrated teachers, it is what makes maintaining their commitment to integrated education, and coming to terms with what this demands, their most important priorities’ (Fraser, 1993).
Whilst the high level of parental involvement in integrated schools was noted in the previous study, it also became clear that the concept of ‘involvement’ is complex and parents may define it in a range of different ways. For example, the controversies over whether new integrated schools should be approved for funding have seen groups of parents asserting that they have the right to be involved in decisions about the type of school they wish their children to attend and that resource allocation decisions should reflect such choices. In other words, parental involvement implies that, if parents express a preference for a particular type of school for their children, government should give priority to meeting that preference. On the other hand involvement in the on-going operation of an established school is more complex. As indicated, many of the integrated schools have ‘parents councils’ which provide a formal channel through which parents can express their views and be kept informed. Attendance at council meetings which are usually held about once a month was reported to be ‘fairly low’ in many cases and it seems that there is still some uncertainty about what parents and teachers see as the functions of the councils and their meetings. Amongst the suggestions about what parents would like were, a place where parents can meet other parents with pupils in the same class! age group; information and details about the curriculum or about the teaching methods being used with their children. On the other hand, there was sometimes confusion about what sort of issues could be raised in the ‘public’ forum of a parents’ council meeting and problems had arisen when the questions relating to an individual child or teacher had been brought up - some parents and teachers felt that this raised difficulties about confidentiality. Indeed some parents and teachers believed that more traditional parent/teacher conferences where parents discuss their own child with teachers in a private setting are the preferred form of involvement.
Overall there was a sense of the relationship between parents and teachers in the integrated schools shifting over time towards a pattern relatively close to that of the majority of other schools. This may be because it is difficult to define and sustain a distinctive new form of relationship once schools are established or it may be that all schools appear to have shifted in the direction of greater parental involvement and so the integrated schools no longer stand out as so obviously distinctive. This does not imply that parents and their views are less important since it remains clear that parents of existing and past pupils play a crucial role in raising awareness about the integrated schools and because they, especially the founder parents, often have greater expectations, disappointment at the failure or perceived failure of ‘their’ school to meet these is more keenly felt. Clearly, in a sector dependent on active decisions to ‘opt-in’, their continued satisfaction with the performance of each school will continue to determine its viability for the foreseeable future. (Coopers and Lybrand, 1988; Cairns, 1990).
ACTIONS AND ATTITUDES TO INTEGRATED EDUCATION OF OTHER ELEMENTS IN THE NORTHERN IRELAND EDUCATION SYSTEM AND NORTHERN IRISH SOCIETY
British Government - Direct Rule Administration
It may seem odd that this section begins with direct reference to the British government since most of the interactions between those involved with integrated schools and government are handled either through DENI or the Education and Library Boards. In particular DENI is responsible for interpretation of the underlying legal framework and implementation of policy. However, the overall administrative and decision making context within which the integrated schools, in common with the whole of the Northern Irish education system, operate, under the direct rule administration, is the outcome of decisions made in Westminster.
Indeed in charting the development of integrated education one of the most significant features of the period from the late 1980s has been the increasing level of government interest and involvement. During the late 1970s and early 1980s government appeared to take little interest as pressure groups agitated for integrated education and the first wave of schools was founded. The opening of Lagan College in 1981 attracted considerable media attention since it was seen as a valuable ‘good news’ story at a time when there was little positive to report from Northern Ireland but those involved were keen to stress their independence of any government or political connections. To link integrated education with the direct rule administration, any of the Northern Ireland political parties or any of the churches was regarded by those directly involved as problematic since it could lead to the movement being labelled and losing credibility with other sections of the community.
This meant that although government financial support was urgently needed there was also concern about the ‘strings’ which might be attached to such support. As government started to cover the recurrent costs of schools which had been running for a number of years and entered negotiations about financing building programmes, links were established and suggestions that ‘government’ was favouring integrated education or even ‘using’ the integrated schools began to emerge. Gradually this has become a more serious issue. During the period when Dr Brian Mawhinney was Minister of State with responsibility for education, policies relating to integrated education were developed and enshrined in the 1989 Education Reform (NI) Order (HMSO,1989). These sought essentially to support and encourage the establishment of schools where there was parental demand for integrated education. Whilst at a policy level the approach sought to tread a line between responding to parental initiatives and active positive intervention at a practical level it involved financial investment on a very considerable scale. In a small system resourcing several new schools almost every year for over ten years made integrated schools look like the main beneficiaries of government funding and, by implication, favour.
Over the same period the British government’s wider policy framework for Northern Ireland seemed to be stressing a ‘civil society’ approach, building an infra structure of institutions and procedures designed to promote equality and parity of esteem between the two major traditions. Features of this involved the setting up of the Community Relations Council, legislation relating to equity in employment and support for ‘grass roots’ cross community initiatives and organisations. Against this background government support for integrated education can be interpreted as one element in a ‘civil society’ approach, another strand in the process of building up cross community links and understandings. Whilst many of those involved in the development of integrated education are certainly sympathetic to measures which improve community relations identification with government approaches is seen as posing problems. As our previous study showed, parents have many motives for sending their children to integrated schools, other than ones linked to community relations. For a considerable number, independence from political or religious control by any of the established power blocks would be a significant consideration. In addition supporters of integrated education from both sides of the community have suggested that government support compromises the schools and they have been accused of becoming a, possibly unwitting, ‘tool’ of British government policy.
From a government perspective, whatever the initial thinking behind the decision to include support for integrated education in the 1989 Order, policy problems have arisen in the mid 1990s. It has become clear that the wording of the Order was rather vague and open to a range of interpretations and subsequent attempts to operationalise the legislation (discussed in detail in relation to the role of DENI) have been the subject of dispute and legal challenge. The overall impression is that in the late 1980s government was attracted to integrated education as a positive community relations development but that the complex basis of parental support and the medium to long term financial ramifications were not fully appreciated. It could be argued that it was the rapid rate of expansion which took government by surprise and upset their financial calculations but there is also a suspicion that there were more fundamental misunderstandings.
The incoming Labour administration of May 1997 has inherited major policy questions and early statements suggest that they are aware of the urgency and complexity of the problems. However, they have suggested that they are currently ‘hamstrung’ by the actions of the previous government and bound by the existing criteria which are used to determine whether approval and funding are granted for new integrated schools. These arguments were used by the minister, Tony Worthington, in refusing to sanction the autumn 1997 opening of integrated secondary level schools in East Antrim (Ulidia College), Belfast (Malone) and Strangford, Co. Down. A detailed analysis and revision or restatement of policy has been promised by the new administration though the timing and form of developments may be affected by any progress in the ‘peace process’ following the second IRA cease-fire of July 1997 and the ongoing ‘talks’ between most of the major political parties. Severe criticism of their policy on integrated education has also come from outside Northern Ireland. In January 1998, the report of the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights described this as ‘ineffective and likely to preserve the status quo’ and recommended that,
‘appropriate measures be considered in Northern Ireland to facilitate the establishment of additional integrated schools in areas where a significant number of parents have indicated their desire to have their children enrolled in such schools’ (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1998).
This must also have helped persuade the current administration of the need to be seen to be seriously re-addressing the issue of segregation in their education system.
The Department of Education for Northern Ireland - DENI
The British government has overall responsibility for education policy and its implementation in Northern Ireland but the day to day decision making and administration are in the hands of the Department of Education for Northern Ireland. They had to respond to the initial developments in integrated education before official policy was formulated and indeed during the period before 1989 DENI’s actions sometimes appeared to be based on ad hoc attempts to adapt existing structures and processes in a new context. The Reform Order has provided the basis for DENI actions since 1989 but as indicated above problems of interpretation mean that this has not always proved a secure or uncontentious framework.
Against this background it is not surprising that the relationship between DENI and the integrated schools and their supporters has been affected by a number of difficulties which have gone through cycles of severity but have never been fully resolved. One of the initial problems in DENI’s interaction with the integrated school movement was the absence of clear lines of responsibility within the department. There were no established lines of communication, no designated civil servants and no clear procedures. All these had to be built up during the 1980s as the first schools began to open. After 1989 the structure became formualised with the setting up of an ‘integrated schools branch’ within DENI. The schools and NICIE found this helpful since there was a clear channel through which to interact with the department and a set of civil servants who became familiar with the legislation and the range of issues involved. There was a feeling that relationships and understandings were being established, that there was a group of civil servants who had experience of handling the specific sequence of procedures involved in setting up and financing an integrated school and that this made it easier to resolve difficult issues.
In 1996, however, DENI undertook a major reorganisation of its internal structures. This was designed to improve the efficiency of all its operations but from the perspective of the integrated schools it was seen as disrupting a system with which NICLE, the principals and the governing bodies had only just become familiar. In DENI’s words,
‘the old structure based on the phases of schooling -primary and secondary - is being replaced by a new thematic one based on key areas of activity such as school funding or school effectiveness’ (DENI,1996).
This meant that the integrated schools branch, along with those responsible for the controlled and maintained primary and secondary schools, was disbanded. The new structure is focused around four new divisions:
- school funding and administration,
- teachers and special education,
- school effectiveness,
- school planning and provision.
Within each of the four there are a number of subdivisions with direct responsibility for specific areas. For example in the school planning and provision division there are three sections:
- building - energy,
- school provision.
The mission statement published by DENI as part of the reorganisation process suggests that the new structures are one element in fulfilling the objective:
‘to ensure that the education service addresses the needs of the Northern Ireland community and to lead and support it in doing so’ (DENI,1996).
It is also suggested that the new structures will make it easier for other bodies involved in education to interact with DENI in a partnership:
‘the department delivers very few services directly, but instead works through a wide range of partner bodies. The department’s role is to provide those partners with the strategic leadership they need and to support them in delivering effective services to the public’ (DENI, 1996).
The language of service and partnership chimes well with the notions of accountability and involvement which were a central element in the Conservative government’s education policy and indeed they link in with the commitments of the Parents’ Charter. On the ground, however, NICIE and the integrated schools are finding the new structure fragmented and complex. Instead of interacting with a department focused on integrated education different aspects of capital finance, building plans and appointments have to be referred to separate groups of officials with ample scope for confusion and conflicting advice.
Administrative arrangements for handling interaction with the schools have, however, presented minor issues for DENI in comparison with interpreting and operationalising the 1989 Reform Order. Indeed we would argue that since 1990 this has been the crucial factor in the expansion of integrated education. Under the terms of the Order DENI has a responsibility to ‘encourage and facilitate’ the establishment of integrated schools ‘where there is parental demand’. For DENI officials these obligations raise several questions. They point out that in relation to all other schools they are fulfilling their statutory duty by providing facilities of an acceptable standard and monitoring the delivery of educational services. Only in the case of integrated schools are they also to ‘encourage’. Yet at the same time they have to make clear that they are not favouring integrated schools in comparison to any other group. This means treading a fine line so that, for instance, they emphasise the difference between ‘encouraging’ and ‘promoting’ in describing their interaction with integrated education.
Sometimes it seems that there is an elaborate word play arising out of the lack of clarity of definition in the Reform Order. But in fact the exact interpretation of words can have considerable practical implications, thus defining ‘encouragement’ has been a particular source of friction since DENI and those involved in integrated education have adopted different interpretations. DENI's view is they do not have an ‘open ended’ commitment to encourage parents who wish to establish new integrated schools. In other words they believe that they do not automatically have to support any new group of parents who are seeking to set up a school. It is, perhaps, hardly surprising that this has brought them into conflict with NICIE and some of the parents’ groups seeking either to set up new schools or provide permanent purpose built accommodation for schools operating in temporary premises. DENI, however, expresses the view that they have a wider responsibility for the school system which implies working within financial limits and constraints, balancing ‘encouragement’ with safeguards to ensure that any school which is set up is ‘viable’ and considering the effect of opening a new integrated school on existing controlled and maintained schools in the area.
This question of viability has become another cornerstone of DENI’s policy in relation to integrated schools. In the pre 1989 period integrated schools had to ‘prove’ their viability by financing their own capital and running costs until DENI was satisfied that their actual enrolment and projections for the immediate future made it virtually certain that the school would be able to continue to operate successfully in terms of pupil numbers for the foreseeable future. This regime placed a very heavy financial burden on the schools since most had to be entirely self financing for periods of up to four years. Even with major inputs from international foundations and charities and personal loan guarantees funds had to be cycled around for each school and only a very limited number of schools could embark on the process at any onetime. One of the effects of the 1989 Reform Order was to provide a rather less tortuous route to opening new integrated schools. Under the provisions of the Order a group wishing to establish a school still had to find satisfactory premises and equip them but it could be given support for 100% of its recurrent costs (salaries, essential services, equipment) from the day of opening if DENI judged it to be potentially viable. If this judgement proved correct, as it did in all cases between 1989 and 1997, after a period of one to two years the school would be eligible for 100% capital funding. This could not only cover any future building plans but also be retrospective in that DENI could purchase the (often temporary) buildings which the school had been occupying and repay any interest charges incurred on capital loans or repay rental charges on buildings which had been leased. DENI regarded these as very favourable conditions for the development of integrated schools and indeed in interviews for this study officials suggested that they did constitute ‘special treatment’ for the schools during their initial years. However, they were anxious to stress that once an integrated school became established it became subject to the same criteria as any other school in terms of recurrent and capital funding and had to ‘prove’ its need for resources largely on the basis of current and projected enrolment. So from the Department’s perspective integrated schools do not remain a special case once they become stabilised and indeed DENI explicitly maintains that it does not want them to be seen as any different from controlled or maintained schools of similar size. As officials pointed out:
‘DENI does not, however, accept the argument that they are favouring integrated schools. Schools are supported when small but not later on. DENI does not offer them, or any other small schools, any long term guarantee.’
With these provisos the 1989 Reform Order appeared to provide a stable framework for the expansion and on-going development of integrated education and indeed in the early 1990s it looked as though reasonably satisfactory accommodations had been reached between DENI and those involved with the schools. In particular, a partnership between DENI and NICIE was developing in which NICIE was seen as the channel through which DENI could negotiate with the integrated school ‘movement’, as a DENI official commented:
‘(we) have established support measures which can focus/ channel demand via NICIE. DENI responds to viable proposals. DENI and NICIE work together:
However, the surge of new secondary school openings, the continuing growth in the primary sector and the back-log of pre 1989 schools needing permanent, purpose built premises quickly upset this balance. As a result by the mid 1990s further re-examinations of policy were necessary, old questions were being re-opened and tensions were returning. In interviews for this project DENI officials admitted that they had been surprised by the rate of growth and that it was creating problems, especially financial problems.
As a result DENI’s priority since the early 1990s has been to develop a strategy which is compatible with the requirement that they ‘encourage and facilitate’ but also reflects the realities of a period of limited resources. The Northern Ireland school system is small and before the advent of the integrated schools it was clearly structured and the development pattern well established. Need for new schools, expansion or modernisation could be predicted well in advance and planning was relatively straightforward. Proposals for integrated schools cut right across these patterns, they can come at any time and from any geographical area and each one requires an individual response. DENI sees these factors as making it very difficult to predict demand and, therefore, hard to develop a plan for funding integrated education and for fitting expenditure plans into the overall education budget. At the same time the very visible expansion of integrated education - the new schools, the building programmes - has attracted accusations of ‘favouritism’ and ‘special treatment’ from prominent figures in the other sectors of education, the churches and some political parties. The whole question of funding, especially capital funding, of integrated education has become highly politicised with claims and counter claims from proponents and opponents and any move by DENI subject to critical scrutiny from all sides.
Working within the 1989 framework DENI’s options are limited and there has been no formal revision of policy but shifts in the way legislation is interpreted and implemented in practical terms are emerging. DENI officials pointed to a number of specific issues which precipitated concern and justify what in effect was a move to a more cautious approach:
‘In 1995 approximately one third of the budget available for "newstarts" on school building projects - new schools, major extensions etc. - was allocated to integrated schools:
‘New legislation in relation to health and safety was making it increasingly difficult for parents’ groups to find temporary premises for new schools which could be approved by the Department.’
‘Schools need a range of specialised facilities in order to deliver the new curriculum and meet requirements in relation to standards. It is hard to provide these in a new integrated school because the pupil numbers are likely to be small during the early years’.
‘Parent groups with limited experience and expertise of the procedures which have to be followed and the regulations which have to be met in setting up a new school often encounter management and organisation problems which have the potential to compromise the quality of education provided:
As already indicated it was the spurt of growth in the number of secondary level schools between 1994 and 1996 which seemed to trigger really serious concern and the suggestion that expansion could not continue at the current rate. Thus by the spring of 1996 officials stated during an interview for the project:
‘a secondary school now exists in every area. This means that after the next two schools (North Coast and Slemish) we will have to examine proposals very seriously.’
‘In terms of primary ... there are still gaps. Integrated education has not run its course in terms of primary schools but it would be easier to fill the need by encouraging transformation.’
‘People may now have to be prepared to move around to get what they Want.’
The practical implications of such views have emerged slowly and in somewhat piecemeal fashion (although this may change under the new Labour administration) but they can be broadly grouped into three categories: more formal and rigorous requirements in relation to the ‘viability’ criteria which have to be met before a school is funded, reassessment of building plans and promotion of ‘transformation’ of existing schools to integrated status as an alternative to the establishment of ‘green-field site’ integrated schools.
In relation to viability there has always been a requirement that a school have a reasonable enrolment, a realistic prospect of further growth and sound long term projections for ultimate size. Before the 1989 Order came into effect integrated schools usually had to operate successfully for three to four years before DENI would take over funding. In practical terms this meant that the two secondaries had had three or four full class size entry groups before they were funded and the primary schools almost all had P1 - P4 groups comparable in size to those found in small primary schools across Northern Ireland (an annual intake of about 20 pupils). During the period of rapid growth in the early 1990s, the new criteria allowed schools to be given recurrent funding as soon as they opened, so judgements about viability had to be based on the initial enrolment and projections for the future. In effect if a planned secondary school was able to produce evidence by late summer that it would have 50 pupils on the first of September if could expect to be funded and if a primary school had 20- 30 pupils at that point it would have similar expectations. It was tacitly accepted that once a school had opened it was likely to continue to build up its numbers since no integrated school had failed to do so. During 1995, 1996 and 1997 the department made increasingly rigorous demands about the criteria which had to be met before a school could be approved for recurrent funding from opening day. The number of confirmed pupil enrolments necessary was increased, so for secondary schools pre-opening enrolment requirements rose to 60 and then to 100. Also the date by which confirmation of numbers was required was moved from the summer before opening to the previous winter, i.e. from only one or two months to about six months before the school was due to open. The requirements relating to the provision of a suitable site and buildings of an acceptable standard were also formalised and made more stringent and in the case of secondary schools the long term feasibility of attracting an enrolment of at least 500 pupils was introduced as a significant issue.
The department explains these moves as necessary to ensure that a new school is likely to grow and develop successfully over a period of years and that it is able to provide a high quality education. For activists, parents’ groups and NICIE, however, it seems as though new obstacles are being erected in order to slow down or even halt the development of integrated education and that the motives have more to do with limiting expenditure than with educational considerations. Certainly it appears that there is lack of clarity and agreement about what the Department’s obligations under the terms of the 1989 Reform Order actually are and the way in which they have been interpreted does seem to have shifted over the last three years. This, combined with some of the problems over re-structuring within the department, has resulted in a deterioration in relations between DENI and many of the groups and individuals involved in integrated schools. In the case of the Department’s decision not to approve funding for Oakwood integrated primary school, Derriaghy, which opened in September 1996, the result has been a legal battle which was ongoing for most of 1997. A parent of one of the pupils at Oakwood has sought judicial review of DENI’s decision and has been supported by NICIE. This particular case and the wider issues it raises will be examined in a later section of this report.
Another area of DENI policy implementation which has proved contentious has concerned the provision of permanent accommodation for integrated schools. Over the years since 1981 new integrated schools have opened in a range of buildings of varying suitability for example, large old houses, vacant factory or office buildings, former mental hospital accommodation, groups of temporary classrooms and schools which had closed down. In most cases the founding group have taken and adapted what they could find as a temporary measure in the expectation that more suitable buildings could be provided fairly quickly and that these would be funded by the department. As already indicated, however, the funding of a major building programme for each integrated school now poses a serious resource problem. The result is that even when schools have found a site for long term development many of them are having to accept temporary classrooms on the site for increasing periods. For example Windmill Primary School, Dungannon began life in 1988 in an old church hail and after a long search a suitable building site was found. The school has been in a group of temporary classrooms on that site ever since and has no immediate prospect of permanent buildings.
When plans are approved and finance made available for buildings the pattern is now for a mix of permanent and temporary accommodation - the ‘permanent core model’. This provides a traditionally built hail, administrative and specialist blocks with the classrooms in temporary modular buildings. Whilst this appears to the schools as a ‘cost-cutting’ exercise, DENI indicates that it is necessary to use a high proportion of temporary accommodation until it is possible to have a clear picture of the size at which the school will ultimately stabilise. Until this ‘end-size’ can be judged, the department maintains that there has to be flexibility and temporary classrooms provide this. In a period of financial constraints and with increasingly uncertainty in many aspects of education they suggest that they would now take this route with any new school which had to be provided and that it is not linked to the fact that the schools are integrated. Given that few other ‘green field site’ schools are being built, it is hard to test this assertion. At the same time, DENI’s admission that the process of setting up integrated schools is ‘still too fast and certainly faster than for other schools’, suggests that the schools may have some basis for their fears that there is a deliberate attempt to slow down all aspects of their development.
The approach which DENI sees as a possible way forward amid all these difficulties is the ‘transformation option’. In their view this might meet parental demands for places in integrated schools without deepening the financial crisis created by trying to fund the building of more new schools. Under this policy existing controlled or maintained schools can use formally established procedures, involving the consent of the existing governors and parents to begin the process of ‘transforming’ the school so that it ultimately becomes integrated. Interestingly this was the route which ACT initially pursued in the 1970s when it attempted to persuade controlled and maintained schools to develop structures which would make former ‘single-identity’ schools acceptable and attractive to all sections of the community. The clear advantage from a departmental perspective is that the costs are much lower than when a new school has to be built but numerous problems arise from managing the process of transformation and satisfying proponents of integrated education that the end product is likely to be a satisfactorily integrated school.
Amongst the serious concerns about transformation expressed by those active in integrated education the question of the definition of what constitutes an ‘integrated school’ and whether an existing single identity school can change sufficiently to meet their needs is the most fundamental. They see an integrated school as one in which there is a balance between the major traditions in pupil numbers and amongst staff and governors. Although there may be flexibility in the actual ratios the ideal is that neither the Protestant nor the Catholic intake should fall below 40%. Sometimes 30% is acceptable but a figure lower than this is seen as a problem because the minority group may become swamped or marginalised A school which decides to transform is likely to have much lower levels of cross community representation amongst staff and students, indeed the proportion may be only one or two per cent. DENI recognises this possibility and in its initial guidelines for transformation suggested that a school could be considered integrated if it had a 1% minority representation and realistic prospects of increasing this to 5% within a few years. Whilst the department described this as a ‘reasonable mix’, NICLE and individuals associated with the existing integrated schools regarded it as derisory. Subsequent modifications to guidelines have indicated 10% minority representation as the mix to be regarded as the minimum which should be aimed for. However, there is no clear indication about how long a period a school should have to reach this figure and there are no stipulations about the proportions for staff. Perhaps even more important is the absence of provision for extra funding, apart from a little assistance with initial costs, for a school which is transforming. (DENI. 1997). This lends support to critics who suggest that the whole transformation policy is driven by cost considerations. Some of these critics believe that transformation might be a viable alternative to establishing new integrated schools but that to carry it out effectively would entail considerable costs. For example they cite the issue of the teaching of religious education. If both Catholic and Protestant parents are to be confident about the religious education provided by the school, qualified teachers from both traditions are essential and this will almost inevitably mean that when a school transforms additional staff from one tradition will be needed. In the case of the one secondary transformation which has been completed, that of Brownlow, a controlled secondary school in Craigavon which began the change over in 1991 (a transformation which was supported by NICIE), an experienced Catholic teacher of religious education who had worked in Lagan College was seconded to the staff. He played a crucial role in the provision of Catholic religious education and in the development of structures which would help the integration process. His appointment also had symbolic importance in signalling the seriousness of the intention to value both traditions. However, this was an additional staff appointment which was funded from a charitable foundation and the indications are that DENI would not fund extra staff to assist in future transformations.
Another strand in DENI’s recent thinking is the suggestion that integration may not be the only valid approach to educating pupils from the two major traditions together. For many years small numbers of pupils have crossed the community divide to attend schools of the other tradition. This has happened most frequently at secondary level where in some contexts pupils have ‘crossed over’ to attend high status selective secondary schools (grammar schools) for example in small towns where there is no grammar school linked to their section of the community. Over the years such patterns have become established so that there are a limited number of schools which, although clearly identified as either Catholic or Protestant, are seen as having a tradition of cross community enrolment. DENI has introduced the concept of ‘mixed’ schools to describe such schools which could be seen as ‘de facto’ integrated but which do not wish to change their official status by seeking transformation. They do not meet the NICIE definition of integration but the department suggests that they represent another way of approaching the provision of integrated education.
Clearly the whole question of integrated education now poses many difficulties for the Department of Education. In a sense they have become enmeshed in legal and financial issues arising from the terms of the 1989 Reform Order but their handling of these problems has raised questions in the minds of the supporters of integration about their underlying commitment. In essence these centre on an uncertainty about whether DENI are really supportive of integrated education. Are they committed to facilitating parental demands for integration or are they trapped in a situation where they are forced to implement legislation which they regard as inappropriate? Is the priority now to find loopholes and cost cutting strategies in handling legislation conceived at a time when neither government nor anyone else envisaged the rapid growth rate of integrated schools? DENI would vigorously deny such suggestions but as in so many aspects of public life in Northern Ireland a consensus is unlikely.
The Area Education and Library Boards
Whilst the Department of Education for Northern Ireland has the major responsibility for decisions about the funding of new schools and capital building projects and for the delivery of the statutory curriculum much of the detailed administration of the school system is in the hands of a tier of regional bodies, the five Area Education and Library Boards These equate in some ways to the Local Education Authorities in the rest of the United Kingdom although as a result of the impact on local government of the direct rule administration the boards have a considerable number of appointed representatives in addition to locally elected councillors. This means that they have something of a hybrid quality partially that of a traditional local government body, partially that of a quango. A further complication is that the boards have a considerable range of responsibilities in relation to the controlled (de facto Protestant) schools but much more limited duties and interactions with the maintained (Catholic) schools and the voluntary schools. The Catholic schools have a central administrative body, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, and the majority of the selective grammar schools have a form of administrative structure described as ‘voluntary’ which gives their boards of governors a level of autonomy and involves a direct funding relationship with DENI. Within an already complex set of relationships, grant maintained integrated, controlled integrated and transformed integrated schools introduce new patterns which the Boards have to accommodate. Against such a background, it is perhaps not surprising that the groups involved in setting up new integrated schools, the principals of integrated schools and NICLE have sometimes characterised their interactions with the boards as less than harmonious.
The interviews conducted with board officials for this project suggested that they see themselves as being called upon to implement policy which they had no role in formulating and that divisions of responsibility over finance, planning and the provision of support services between themselves, DENI and NICIE make the situation more difficult and sometimes sour relationships. In addition, the fact that their committees with their elected and local representation provide a forum for debate but have little direct input into the process by which the establishment of a new integrated school is approved magnifies the difficulties. For example the elected political representatives on the Boards often have strong views about whether or not a school should be allowed to open in their local area so the Boards sometimes become linked with campaigns which can be bitter and divisive. Some of the political representatives have, in a number of cases, strenuously opposed integrated schools and used the relevant Area Board as a forum to advance their views. As a result there have been cases where Boards have blocked moves to allow integrated schools to take over buildings left vacant as a result of school closures and there have been accusations of behind the scenes moves to obstruct the opening of schools or their approval for funding. All of this further complicates the position of Board officials who have to interact with parents groups, governors, NICIE and DENI as well as local representatives.
Perhaps partially as a result of such difficulties the Area Boards until very recently seemed to prefer to play down the significance of integrated education. Elements of this approach were apparent in the interviews for this project. In several cases officials reiterated familiar views about many areas being unsuited to the establishment of integrated schools because of their almost totally segregated housing, about integrated education being a middle class preoccupation and about the small number of schools and pupils involved. At the same time there was clearly growing concern both about the resource implications of the expansion of integrated education and about how far the Boards could influence decision making and policy. This was part of a wider range of concerns about the future role of Area Boards, the number of Boards, their geographical extent and the division of responsibility between them and other elements in the education system. These anxieties over aspects of the growth of integrated education were symptomatic of a more general anxiety about defining boundaries in situations where they felt that their own position was under threat.
Most of the integrated schools have chosen ‘grant maintained’ status so that almost all their funding comes directly from DENI. In this situation Boards described their links with the schools as ‘more of a distance relationship’ in which schools could ‘use Board services or not as they wish’. At the same time the view was expressed that integrated schools believed ‘they can do better with DENI as their umbrella than with the ELBs’. In reality there was little difference because the way Boards allocate money to controlled schools is regulated by DENI, the delivery of the statutory curriculum is monitored by DENI and staff recruitment follows procedures laid down by DENI and monitored by the Fair Employment legislation. There was no clear or strong statement that the Boards would prefer all the integrated schools to operate as ‘controlled integrated schools’ linked to the relevant Board although there were comments about the good relations they had with schools which had opted for this structure and suggestions that support for building programmes in these schools was a clear demonstration of ‘commitment to and investment in integrated education’.
Several of the Boards indicated that they were now developing action plans and policy statements which included a more formal recognition of the role of integrated education. For example the Belfast Board had identified integrated education as a ‘strategic issue’ in a draft action plan. The proposal was that the Board’s role should be:
‘to facilitate the development of integrated education in schools where parents desire it and to assist Boards of Governors of such schools to obtain integrated status for their schools’ (BELB, 1996).
In support of this policy suggested action was:
‘short term - agree board policy, initiate changes where requested,
long term - monitor effect of changes in provision’.
The emphasis here is clearly on facilitating the transformation process rather than supporting the opening of ‘green-field site’ integrated schools and this was a recurring theme in discussions with Board officials. They found situations in which schools in their areas had falling roles and they were having to manage contractions, amalgamations and closures, whilst at the same time new integrated schools were being opened, as unsatisfactory and indeed in some cases irritation was evident.
Similarly officials of the North Eastern Board had initiated a review of their approach to integrated education and a discussion document had been presented to the full Board which had resulted in a policy document ‘Integrating Education’ which was produced in March 1996, (Appendix H).
‘We consulted widely. Our philosophy now is different from before. There is a policy on controlled integrated education which is part of the strategy towards integrating education. There is a continuum of Board policy from community relations at school level to schools themselves becoming part of this’.
In this case integrated education is seen as part of a wider programme of support for parental choice and for a range of models through which education could contribute to improved community relations through programmes which include Education for Mutual Understanding, inter school links and European and international contacts, as well as integrated education.
The current indications, therefore, are that the Boards have begun to take much more interest in integrated education though how far this reflects commitment and how far it is driven by concern about lack of control over the direction and pace of development remains an open question. Some ambivalence is understandable since whilst instances of lack of enthusiasm and even obstruction have been regularly cited by supporters of integrated education the problems which the rapid growth of new schools is posing for Boards are real. For example in areas where there is already over provision of second level school places and open enrolment is resulting in a higher proportion of pupils gaining grammar school places, secondary schools are in serious trouble with falling roles, a high proportion of pupils with learning difficulties and low staff morale. In such contexts the opening of a new integrated school may only add to the problems from a Board’s perspective:
‘the tiered system is being added to. This is more dangerous than the Protestant/Catholic split’,
‘the new college will have a devastating effect’,
'from the point of view of public audit, it cannot be defended'.
These are certainly genuine and important concerns and the suspicion and even rivalry which has sometimes affected interactions between the Boards, DENI, NICIE and individual integrated schools has made it more difficult to begin to analyse them rationally.
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS)
The Catholic church in Ireland has always regarded education as a crucial element in the transmission of the faith to succeeding generations and as a result has always insisted on having a central role in the provision and control of schools (Farren, 1995). However, in Northern Ireland from 1922 onwards the actual management of Catholic schools was organised through a decentralised structure with several strands. The majority of the all age elementary schools and their successors, the primary schools and secondary intermediate schools, were linked to individual parishes. A small number of selective boys’ secondary schools had diocesan links (often functioning, until the 1950s, primarily as junior seminaries preparing candidates for admission to training for the priesthood) whilst the majority of selective secondary schools were single sex and were provided and staffed by the religious orders, with the nuns of the Mercy and Loreto orders particularly prominent Change over the last twenty years has been rapid and considerable, for example, the religious orders have reduced their direct involvement in teaching as vocations have fallen, lay principals have been appointed and many schools have become co-educational. At an administrative level the most significant development has been the establishment of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. This statutory body was set up in 1989, under the Reform Order, with support from DENI, to co-ordinate many aspects of the management of the Catholic schools, especially those linked to individual parishes, i.e. the majority of the primary schools and non-selective secondary schools. The Council has a permanent professional staff and provides support in areas such as in-service training, staff recruitment and liaison with DENI.
As a result of this remit the Council has some of the same responsibilities and concerns in relation to Catholic schools as the Area Boards and NICIE exercise on behalf of the controlled and integrated schools respectively. Like these other bodies it is enmeshed in a complex range of inter-relationships and hierarchies of responsibility. On some issues the Council liaises with individuals and organisations within the church, on some it works directly with schools whilst in other areas its links are to DENI and the Area Boards. Within this context it is not surprising that CCMS officials expressed some of the same general concerns as Board officers and DENI civil servants about problems arising from division of responsibility and the routes through which policy inputs could be channelled. At the same time the specific responsibilities of the Council to the Catholic church and the Catholic community mean that it has its own particular set of concerns about the growth of integrated education.
Discussion with CCMS officials suggested two main sets of issues relating to integrated education. (Interview framework, Appendix E). One relates to the quality of education which the schools can provide for Catholic pupils. The need for a specific religious ethos throughout the school, informing both the overt and hidden curriculum, has always been stressed as a central requirement in the education of Catholic pupils (CCMS, 1996). This argument was reiterated and it was suggested that such an ethos cannot be adequately provided in an integrated school. Formal religious education plays a central role in meeting the church’s requirements and here again there was concern that the integrated schools are not able to provide satisfactory standards. These issues are clearly of central importance but they relate to areas where the integrated schools provide ‘fair competition’ in the sense that CCMS, the Catholic schools and the church can confidently make what they see as a clear and sustainable case to Catholic parents to persuade them to continue to send their children to Catholic schools. Thus CCMS could point to the fact that:
‘it has been responsible for raising standards. it has created a co-ordinated and cohesive system. It has turned around some schools. There is a need for a similar performance mechanism in integrated education’.
There was also a view that they could challenge the integrated schools in relation to ‘how integrated’ they really were since in the view of the CCMS official interviewed they were ‘owned’ by the middle class. This meant that they did not provide a socially integrated environment and it could also affect the extent to which the professionals (principals and teachers) could exercise educational judgements.
The second main set of issues, relate to government support for integrated education. Here, CCMS believes that they and the Catholic schools have been unfairly treated. Their view is that government policy has specifically sought to favour integrated education in comparison with other sectors. The 1989 Reform Order with its commitment to supporting the expansion of integrated schools was singled out as the clearest evidence of this policy in action:
‘If schools are treated differently, the legislation is discriminatory. Therefore, the 1989 Education Order is discriminatory’.
They were convinced that more funding was made available to integrated schools than to maintained schools, both to fund capital projects for new schools and to support recurrent costs and that requests for support from integrated schools were given priority in terms of waiting periods. Assurances from DENI that all schools were treated equally had not convinced them.
‘Evidence suggests that (new) integrated schools are better funded - DENI is funding growing schools. This is front loading, not retrospective’.
Overall there was a ‘generosity of funding’ in relation to integrated schools so that,
‘there appeared to be substantial additional funding compared with other school of similar size’.
Linked to these criticisms of the allocation of resources was wider concern about the ‘uncontrolled’ and ‘unplanned’ expansion of integrated education. The rapid growth in the number of schools was seen as leading to over-capacity and this in itself was wasteful.
‘Government policy is contradictory. There is a need to get rid of surplus places, not create more.’
Several aspects of the government’s policy, for example in relation to the provision of transport over long distances to allow pupils to attend integrated schools,
‘took resources from the classroom. Integrated education has a similar effect. It creates surplus places, is time consuming and costly. As taxpayers, can we be confident that this is a good use of public funds?’
By implication, there was also anxiety about the impact this might have on enrolments in some maintained schools and the ultimate possibilities of redundancies for teachers and even school closures. Given the historical background in which control of their own schools had been of enormous practical and symbolic significance for the Catholic church and the Catholic community and the very great financial commitment made to funding education by church members, these concerns are particularly deep rooted.
At the same time, the fact that the growth of integrated schools has been to a considerable extent based on parental initiatives and parental choice complicates the issues, whilst also raising further long term concerns from CCMS’s particular perspective.
‘As lay professionals CCMS recognises and accepts the principle of parental choice. This best meets the needs of children. We are not opposed to integrated education. We recognise it as "de facto"’.
Catholic parents have been very active in the development of integrated schools and whilst CCMS accepts that they have the right to opt for integrated education the increasing emphasis in government policy on transformation as a way of expanding integrated education is potentially a serious difficulty. Whilst Catholic parents working to found a new green field site integrated school create only an indirect threat to existing maintained schools, a group of Catholic parents seeking to initiate the transformation of a maintained school to controlled integrated status and using the legislative framework currently in place, would raise major political and legal questions. To date, there have been no such moves but it is clearly an underlying concern for CCMS.
Teaching unions in Northern Ireland as elsewhere are primarily concerned to work in support of members especially in relation to conditions of employment. Over the last 10 years very major changes in education, for example in the management and financing of schools and the introduction of a statutory curriculum, have had a profound impact on the roles, responsibilities and remuneration of teachers. As a result, the unions have had a very heavy workload helping teachers, both as a group and as individuals, come to terms with the new professional environment. In particular, many schools in Northern Ireland have had to reduce staff numbers and this has entailed both early retirements/voluntary redundancies and compulsory redundancy. All the unions have been involved in complex negotiations over these issues. In such an atmosphere the expansion of a new group of schools alongside cutbacks in existing schools and overall severe financial stringency is almost bound to generate tensions in the teaching profession and in its representative organisations. From the unions’ perspectives the problems are made even more complex by the fact that although the great majority of those they represent work in the two traditional groups of schools they also have members in the integrated primary and secondary schools whose interests they have to promote and defend. These issues were explored in the interviews with union representatives and additional material was also obtained from published material, such as the UTU’s formal published response to the 1989 Education Reform Order (UTU, 1990).
A wide range of views were expressed in the course of the interviews and reflected in the published material, but a number of themes recurred. These focused on the effectiveness of integrated education, the financial arrangements put in place by government and the impact of expansion in the integrated sector on the rest of the school system. In commenting on the value of integrated education there was a general acceptance, even a cautious welcome, in principle,
‘(we welcome) any measure that will unite the two communities
in Northern Ireland’ (UTU).
But such general statements were often qualified by expressions of doubt about how effective integrated education could be as a contribution to improved community relations,
‘(we feel obliged to) caution the Government against over emphasising the impact that such schools may have in achieving such laudable and necessary ideals in a divided society’ (UTU).
Some of the doubts about the impact of integrated education were based on questions about the social mix of the pupils and the geographical location of the schools. Such criticisms were being voiced at the time of the previous research (Morgan, 1992c) and it appears that they remain significant in spite of efforts by supporters of integrated education to provide data which counters such claims.
‘Integrated schools must not appear as easy options. They must also draw from a wide areas as do other schools, for example from areas where there is great social need and mass unemployment’ (NASUWT).
‘The class dimension (is important). Middle class children who failed the 11 + are being sent to integrated colleges. This is a further erosion of the system. The integrated schools attract not the kind of child who would benefit from them but those who already have contact with the other side’ (UTU).
There were also more general concerns that, in a small education system, which was already subdivided on the basis of religion, ability and gender, a new set of schools, whatever its avowed aims, could in effect be divisive,
‘the consequence will be seen as a further extension of an already fragmented educational system’ (UTU).
Perhaps not surprisingly, however, the most serious concerns were those relating to the legislative and financial framework within which integrated schools operate. In all the interviews with union officials and throughout the published material there was repeated reference to the question of fairness’. Some statements have overtly questioned the legislative framework provided by the 1989 Reform Order
‘the Union must question, in the light of prevailing economic circumstances, the right of the Government to extend in legislation preferential financial treatment to one type of school, since to do so, will inevitably lead to financial disadvantages to other schools’ (UTU, 1990).
Even where criticism is more muted there is a clear perception that the government and DENI had 'facilitated integrated education to a great extent’ (NAHT). Several of those interviewed were conscious that the issues were complex but felt that beliefs about preferential treatment had become deeply embedded,
‘Government has allowed the perception that integrated schools receive special consideration in terms of capital funding and this has created hostility towards them. However, a perception is not the same as the truth. Overall there is less money for education and there has been a freeze on capital expenditure. ... integrated schools are perceived as "queue-jumping" ' (NASUWT).
In practical terms it is the impact of the expansion of integrated education on existing schools and teaching posts which is the most pressing issue for the unions. They have to handle situations in which falling rolls in existing schools are causing staff cut-backs whilst at the same time a new integrated school is being established in the area.
‘DENI has allowed the market economy to take its course in the development of integrated schools and one must ask how long this can go on. integrated schools have been established in areas where there are surplus places in the schools already there. The diseconomy is obvious’ (NAHT).
The ways in which the integrated schools were likely to impact on existing schools in terms of funding, pupil numbers and staff redundancies were clearly extremely sensitive and contentious areas but other aspects of interaction were also raised. For example, it was suggested that the contribution which other elements in the education system were making to improving community relations was being overshadowed. Thus one interviewee suggested that the role of Further Education colleges, voluntary grammar schools, special schools and nurseries where there had been ‘integration’ over many years was being ignored. Similarly the importance of the work being done in controlled and maintained schools, through Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) and Cultural Heritage programmes and the various inter school contact schemes, was being disregarded.
Overall the views of the unions and their officials seemed to range from cautious acceptance to lightly veiled antagonism. However, as so often in Northern Ireland, the picture was further complicated by cross currents. As already indicated, all the unions have members who work in integrated schools and the officials interviewed were conscious of the need to represent their interests and respond to particular professional issues which affect them. For example, there was reference to the relationship between parents and teachers in the integrated schools and evidence that in some situations teachers felt that their professional judgements and responsibilities were questioned or undermined by parents,
‘some of the schools have attracted very aggressive parents ... a pattern of parent power has been established’ (NAHT).
In extreme situations where disagreements between parents and teachers in integrated schools arose it seemed that the balance had shifted so that ‘they (parents) cannot be stopped’. It was suggested that principals in particular can feel under real threat, a difficulty compounded by lack of established channels beyond the individual school, through which disputes might be mediated.
‘I know the officials of NICIE work extremely hard in a rapidly expanding sector but they cannot overcome the difficulties which have arisen from time to time and which have been extremely damaging to individuals and the children in the schools involved’ (NAHT).
It seemed clear that the union officials often felt that they were in a very difficult position, trying to support teachers across the whole range of types of schools and yet very conscious that developments which might be seen as positive for one group could easily have negative ‘knock-on’ effects for other members. In addition the highly politicised nature of education in Northern Ireland means that different unions are perceived as having sympathy with different sections of the community or even with specific political parties, positions or policies. Thus any statements from the unions are likely to be analysed and interpreted at a number of levels as the officials were clearly aware. For example a UTU official suggested that some teachers no longer felt comfortable in the union after taking up posts in integrated schools,
‘a union which is outspoken publicly seems sectarian to them and therefore no longer conducive’ (UTU).
The fact that the researchers were unable to arrange interviews with representatives of any of the political parties except the Democratic Unionist Party has already been commented on as a possible indicator of the preoccupations and priorities of politicians in Northern Ireland. This interview focused on issues which had been touched on by a number of other groups. In particular, the DUP spokesperson was concerned about the financing of integrated schools and the question of whether they were receiving ‘favoured/preferential’ treatment from DENI and the British government. However, there was also considerable suspicion about the latter’s motivation. ‘Bringing children together’ was not particularly new; it was in fact a ‘very old idea’, dating back to the national schools, but the government was ‘morally wrong’ in trying to ‘use’ it to help ‘create a climate of community relations’. This was ‘discreet indoctrination’ which showed that government had failed to understand the importance of ‘democracy and freedom of choice’ in the Ulster psyche’. The result was that instead of ‘giving education its rightful place as an asset within society’, it was being devalued.
Indeed on a more general level, it could be argued that throughout the development of the integrated school movement the parties have been wary of making official pronouncements and that there are sound political reasons for this. On the one hand the political parties in Northern Ireland almost all draw their support from one section or other of the community and so do not wish to alienate their voters by openly supporting integrated schools. Such support might be perceived as carrying an implicit criticism of the schools traditionally identified with that section of the community. On the other hand an increasing number of parents are sending their children to integrated schools or expressing an interest in integrated education and they are also voters. in addition there is the danger that strong criticism of integrated schools can be interpreted as ‘sectarian’, this was especially true in the early phase of the movement’s growth when the first group of schools were very publicly promoted at an international level as ‘beacons of hope’.
Thus, although there have been a range of responses from the political parties, for example the Alliance Party has usually been strongly supportive whilst the DUP has voiced considerable reservations, (Collins,1992) the overall impression is one of ambivalence and carefully guarded comments. Another significant factor is the limited power over education policy which local politicians have had since the imposition of direct rule in 1972. This means there has been little incentive to develop and promote strong policy positions since they would have little chance of being implemented.
Whilst the political parties have shown only limited interest in the development of integrated education individual politicians at local level have sometimes been more active. In a number of the campaigns which have been mounted either in support of or opposition to the opening of specific new integrated school locally based politicians have played a part, attending public meetings, writing to local newspapers etc. There is also a perception, which it is impossible to test empirically, that there has sometimes been behind the scenes activity by local politicians aimed at stopping new integrated schools from being opened. As indicated this is a shadowy area where this research cannot shed any light but the very existence of such rumours is another indicator of the sensitivity and controversy which still surrounds integrated education. If a devolved administration were to emerge from the 1997 - 98 round of all party talks then education policy and the future of integrated education could well become a very major political issue.
Although no specific interviews were carried out with clergy or church representatives - for the reasons explained in the methodology section - the issue of relationships between integrated schools and churches came up in a number of contexts. For example all the principals were asked about their contacts with local clergy and their views and experiences have been examined in an earlier section. Similarly discussion of the position of CCMS has already involved some consideration of the views of the Catholic church and indeed in this case there is a strong overlap between the two organisations. In addition, the Transferor Representatives’ Council which co-ordinates the views of the churches which transferred their schools to government control and funding after the formation of the Northern Ireland state produced a submission to the Minister of Education in January 1996 which detailed their position on integrated education (Transferor’s Report, 1996). The Boards of Education of the individual churches on the Council (Church of Ireland, Presbyterian church and Methodist church) have also discussed integrated education and issued a number of statements, particularly in relation to the provisions and operation of the 1989 Education Reform Order. individual clergy from across the denominations have also made public statements at various times relating both to the general principles of integrated education and the impact of specific schools on local areas.
Thus all the major denominations in Northern Ireland have at various points expressed views about integrated education. These have covered a range from strongly supportive to totally condemnatory and within individual denominations there have been wide variations between the reactions of different individuals and also some shifts over time. A central concern has clearly been the relationship between the principles of integrated education and the doctrinal position of the churches on education. Here the variables which appear to have been most significant in informing attitudes have been interpretations of the acceptability and advisability of inter-church links and attitudes to religious control of education. In very general terms those opposed to ecumenism and those with a strong commitment to church control of education have been the most vocal critics of integrated education. In addition to theologically based discussion the input to debate from the churches has also reflected concern about how the growth of integrated schools impacts on the existing schools and on the role of clergy in school management.
During the 1980s when integrated education was novel and expanding slowly the churches seemed to view it as peripheral. Their statements emphasised that only small numbers were involved, so whilst integrated education could be described either supportively as ‘an interesting and valuable experiment’ or negatively as ‘un-Christian’ it was essentially seen by almost all the churches as of limited significance. From the outset the Catholic church was clear in its opposition on the grounds that although Catholic parents involved in founding and using integrated schools might be well intentioned they were endangering their children since the schools could not provide an adequate grounding in Catholic faith. This opposition was highlighted by the question of preparation of children for the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation. Traditionally, in Northern Ireland, Catholic children are given the teaching necessary to prepare them for admission to these sacraments in the maintained primary schools by specifically recognised Catholic teachers. The church questioned whether children attending integrated schools could be adequately taught even though trained Catholic teachers were on the staff of all the integrated schools and took responsibility for denominational religious education. As a result a number of publicised controversies arose where individual bishops and parish priests either refused to admit pupils from integrated schools to the sacraments or imposed special conditions which distressed the Catholic parents and teachers involved. Other churches such as the Free Presbyterian church based their opposition on their objections to children being ‘exposed’ to what they believe to be the dangerous and heretical doctrines of other denominations and on their own religious commitment to separation.
In other cases where churches and individual clergy have supported integrated education whilst some statements have been clear and forceful others have sometimes appeared tentative and qualified. Indeed it has been suggested, especially in relation to the reactions of the larger Protestant churches, misgivings have not always been expressed since to do so would mean attacking development which was widely seen as positive in terms of improving community relations and a negative response might appear intolerant even sectarian. In addition there was sometimes a suggestion that the Protestant churches did not need to express opposition since the Catholic church was already making the anti-integration case. (Morgan, 1995).
As expansion has become more rapid during the 1990s and integrated schools have become a reality in most parts of Northern Ireland, the responses of the churches have not changed significantly. There is still uncertainty and quite often a range of differing responses from members of the same church. This may simply reflect the fact that there is considerable division within many of the denominations both about the value of integrated education and the right response based on religious doctrine. The churches frequently seem to be reacting to events rather than adopting a pro-active position. On the ground there are signs of gradual changes but no major policy shifts and local variations in the quality of relations between individual integrated schools and the churches in their area remain. So for example in relation to the problems over First Communion and Confirmation for Catholic children attending integrated schools there has been no major policy change and difficulties still surface on occasion, but there have also been local accommodations negotiated by individual principals with parish clergy. These usually depend on the careful building up of relationships of trust and respect conducted away from the glare of publicity and indeed there may be reluctance to spell them out in formal terms.
In addition to their direct doctrinal involvement in the content of religious education the major denominations also have long standing roles in the management of schools either through direct control as in the maintained schools or through extensive clerical representation on Boards of Governors and Area Boards in the controlled sector. In this area the integrated schools do seem to pose a threat. Integrated schools have deliberately chosen not to have formal representation from any of the churches on their governing bodies. This is designed to avoid any possibility of being identified with ‘one side or the other’ although it may also reflect fears of clerical interference and even the antagonism of some parents to organised Christianity. The main churches are conscious that they have been excluded and this places them in a difficult position. On the one hand to press for representation would indicate at least a tacit acceptance, on the other to be excluded means they have no formal input into shaping the development of an expanding sector of education.
As in so many other aspects of this study, the 1989 Reform Order proved a major catalyst for comment and the issues raised echo those already brought up in other interviews. For example the submission to the Minister of Education on integrated education, which the Transferors’ Representative Council prepared in 1996 and published as an appendix to their 1995 -96 annual report, begins with statements about the churches’ concerns for the spiritual needs of children, the importance of improved community relations and right of parental choice. But much of the submission deals with what is seen as preferential treatment of integrated education.
‘In some areas where integrated schools have been funded, they present new buildings in more accessible areas than some of the more-tired under funded and "badly in need of repair" buildings which exist. The funding available to such new starts has enabled these schools to finance and produce promotional materials which lie well outside the possibilities of the existing schools’.
Another element in the response of the Protestant churches has been a growing concern that whilst the Catholic schools are represented by CCMS and the integrated schools by NICIE they do not have a similar officially recognised role in relation to the maintained schools. This has led to some suggestions that the Protestant churches should not have ‘given up’ their schools by the transfer process and also to calls for a new body to reflect the Protestant ethos of the controlled schools.
‘The Department of Education must rescue itself from the discriminatory position in which it has placed itself in demanding that Area Boards divest themselves of certain support and services to all types of schools and at the same time establishing CCMS and NICIE to support schools in those sectors whilst continuing to refuse to establish any similar holistic focus of support for Controlled schools’ (Transferors’ Representative Council Report, 1996).
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