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Integrated Schools

Volume 301: debated on Wednesday 26 November 1997

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How many integrated schools in Northern Ireland (a) at present exist, (b) existed in 1992 and (c) are at the planning stage. [16231]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Tony Worthington)

At present, there are 33 grant-aided and four independent integrated schools in Northern Ireland. In addition, four schools have been granted conditional approval for transformation to integrated status from September 1998, and proposals from a further six schools are under active consideration. In September 1992, there were 16 grant-aided schools.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that, although integrated schooling is not a solution to the deep divisions in Northern Ireland society, it plays a crucial role in heightening understanding and tolerance of different cultures and religions? Will he say whether the Northern Ireland Office is taking any steps to encourage existing schools to transform themselves into integrated schools?

I agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. We are encouraging existing schools to transform themselves into integrated schools, and an unprecedented number—five schools— have done so this year. Creating new schools causes real capital expenditure problems. Some £28 million will be spent on integrated schools in the next three years, which is a large proportion of the expenditure on major school works. We want to encourage schools to submit genuine, active proposals for transformation. That is a major step forward.

Does the Minister agree that there is a considerable and significant level of voluntary integration in addition to existing designated integrated schools? Does he agree also that the education for mutual understanding programme is improving links between state-controlled schools and Roman Catholic maintained schools and is helping to improve respect for different traditions? Will the Minister monitor closely all applications for new integrated schools that might threaten the viability of existing secondary schools in Northern Ireland?

On the hon. Gentleman's first point about voluntary integration, school transformation proposals must involve a significant amount of integration. The general point is that most schools in Northern Ireland have become extremely segregated, and therefore find it difficult to move quickly to integration. We accept happily that it is our duty under statute to stimulate school integration, but we must achieve a balance between that duty and being fair to the other schools and other children in the system.