Integrated Education Bill to be debated at Stormont amidst claim it is 'unjust'

MLAs in Stormont are set to debate a bill of integrated education.

The Private Member's Bill, put forward by Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong, proposes the setting of minimum targets for the number of children being educated in integrated schools, as well as providing dedicated funding for facilitation of the sector.

Currently just 7% of children in Northern Ireland attend schools in the formally integrated sector.

It is one of a number of Bills being debated by MLAs ahead of the dissolution of the Assembly next month ahead of fresh elections.

The Integrated Education Bill is set to be debated in the Assembly on Thursday as part of the further consideration stage - one of the final stages in the legislative process.

A body representing some grammar schools in Northern Ireland has raised "serious concerns" about the potential impact of the Integrated Education Bill.

Other bodies, including the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, have also expressed concerns about the Bill, claiming it could create a "two-tier system".

  • WATCH: Gerry Campbell from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools:

The Governing Bodies Association (GBA), representing 50 voluntary grammar schools, has said the Bill, if enacted, will create "significant disparities in terms of levels of support, resourcing, training, and funding and lead to unfairness for the majority of our children and young people".

The GBA said while some of its concerns have been addressed, some "fundamental weaknesses" remain.

GBA chairperson Jacqueline Weir said children and young people are already educated together at many schools, including voluntary grammar schools.

She has urged that the Bill be paused to allow more time for "meaningful engagement".

"The fact that the Bill does not acknowledge the work of all schools in embracing and respecting diversity is particularly worrying," Ms Weir said.

She said the legislation "would be unfair to over 90% of pupils in Northern Ireland, providing support for growth in some schools and potentially leading to unsustainability in others".

"Parental choice is highly valued in Northern Ireland, but it cannot survive if all schools in all sectors are not afforded the same opportunity to thrive," Ms Weir said.

"Many schools in every sector are oversubscribed. That reflects parental choice.

"These schools should be allowed and encouraged to grow and adapt to meet parental demand.

"It is also framed in such a way that suggests integrated schools are to be seen as morally, socially and educationally superior to all other schools, rather than equally important in the task of caring for and fostering the abilities of all those entrusted to their care.

However, those in the integrated sector have backed the bill - Sean Spillane from Loughview Primary School say schools like his have challenges in accessing services.

Sean Spillane, Principal of Loughview Primary School Credit: UTV

"Things like access to human resources support, budgetary management support and even access to materials for things like school meals.

"For many integrated schools, it has been a challenge over the last 40 years.

"I very much see this an opportunity to have an equity of access to services that are available in other sectors," Sean said.