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Drive to raise £20m to give 30 schools integrated status


10/11/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Belfast Telegraph

Integrated education chiefs want to raise £20m to enable 30 single religion schools to attain integrated status over the next five years, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.

The target is part of a new five-year development plan entitled Towards Tomorrow Together which will be unveiled by the Integrated Education Fund at the Belfast Harbour Commission today.

Baroness May Blood, IEF campaign chair, and Ciarnan Helferty, who attended an integrated school himself and president of Queen's Students Union, will launch the initiative.

The IEF -- which has already invested £12m in shared schooling over the last 10 years -- aims to raise the massive £20m to help make "integration not separation the norm" in Northern Ireland's schools.

As well as £4m for the transformation fund, it is intended that £4m will be spent on new schools where it is not possible to integrate existing schools. And £4m will be provided to support and develop existing integrated schools.

The other aims include increasing integrated school places from 6% to 10% of the total, providing support for sharing projects and raising the profile of integrated education and the IEF.

In its development plan for 2009-2014, the IEF warns that the estimated cost of maintaining segregation in Northern Ireland is £1.5bn a year.

This figure comes from a report by Deloitte in 2007 which also said that collaboration across the divide could result in savings as high as almost £80m a year.

The IEF's new document states: "We recognise that we have a huge task ahead of us.

"We need to convince politicians, church ruling bodies and education policy makers of the overwhelming case for offering more integrated schooling.

"There are too many empty desks in schools throughout Northern Ireland because of population changes and poor strategic planning by government.

"Many schools could soon be amalgamated or faced with closure.

Transformation is a difficult and challenging process

"This is an opportunity for schools to come together across the traditional divide, or individual schools could transform to integrated status thus opening up schools to the entire community."

Geraldine Tigchelaar, chair of the IEF board of trustees, said: "We see the transformation of existing schools to integrated status as a significant way forward.

"Non-integrated schools can become integrated through a process that includes a democratic majority vote of parents endorsing change.

"Transformation is a difficult and challenging process -- I know because I have been there myself as a principal. But it is a rewarding experience and most importantly brings huge added value to the school and the pupils.

"The good news is demand for transformation is growing and is likely to continue to grow.

"This year the integrated movement welcomed the transformation of two more schools and there are more in the wings. An IEF Transformation Support Fund that is pro-actively promoted will be critical to future success.

"We want everyone to know that we are there, ready and willing to support such change, and most importantly can help lessen the burden of the difficult work that transformation brings.

"Schools will be more willing to embrace change if they know they will be supported effectively. By also raising awareness of the benefits of transformation we hope to see many more schools coming forward in the next five years."



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