Educated together: New-Bridge students on Integrated Education Month
by Fiona Murphy McCormack
8 March 2021
As schools begin to reopen, March marks Integrated Education Month in Northern Ireland. This year marks the 40th anniversary of integrated education in Northern Ireland, which began at Lagan College in 1981. The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) is celebrating this year, with the theme of “together”, at a time when most have been learning from home, apart.
One school taking part in the commemoration is New-Bridge Integrated College, in Loughbrickland. Located between Newry and Banbridge, Principal Mrs Anne Anderson says that the school was established in 1995, by “parents who wanted a school where different communities could be educated together under one roof”. In its initial year, there were 300 students from surrounding areas. Now, 25 years on, the school admits roughly 500 annually, with a recently planned expansion approved for a £17.8 million new-build to be completed in 2023.
New-Bridge Integrated College previously won an Excellence in Integration Award (NICIE), the Evens Laureate for Peace Education (The Evans Foundation), and in September 2020 were awarded the Compassionate School Gold Award, presented by Children in Crossfire. The Carson Awards aims to support students interested in creative arts annually by having them demonstrate the answer to the phrase: “What integrated education means to me”. Past pupil and winner of the 2013 Carson Award, Deimante Keturakyte, said of her integrated education experience: “It is up to young people who have come through integrated education to influence and change the mind-set, dispositions, and attitudes of others.”
The all-ability school also promotes the teaching of controversial issues, specifically described by the CCEA board as “handling disagreement, peacefully resolving conflict, reflection, critical thinking, challenging assumptions and developing to voice their own views”.
Speaking with current sixth-form students on their experience in integrated education, they shared with us their perspectives at New-Bridge.
Gemma Hughes, who had previously attended a Catholic grammar school, said, “Integration is important to me, as it is a reminder that though we may be different in some aspects of life, we’re all equal. Being in New-Bridge has made me understand that not everybody will be like you, and that isn’t something to fear. There’s beauty in originality and expression.”
“I grew up in a Protestant dominated area,” says student Ryan Beattie. “I like meeting people in an integrated space. I have talked to people from other backgrounds and have gotten to know who they are and how they grew up compared to me.”
Having previously attended an integrated primary school, Lucy Knox came to an integrated secondary school because of its warmth and friendliness. She says of her friends, “We have realised how important integration is. We would never have been able to meet had we not attended an integrated school, and we have not allowed differences of religion to affect our friendships.”
“The lessons delivered by our teachers have helped me understand the unique differences of others,” says sixth former Ellis Taylor. “Being in a classroom that is so diverse allows us to find out information you wouldn’t find out in other schools. Everyone comes from different religions, backgrounds and cultures. I believe it has helped to shape me into a more understanding person. I believe integration is important to shape a more caring and understanding society,” she added.
NICIE are encouraging the celebration of Integrated Education Month online for the rest of March, with social media hashtags #togetherIEM2021 and #IEM2021.
Shared Future News will be continuing the conversation on integrated education with New-Bridge alumni. If you would like to contribute, contact firstname.lastname@example.org