'All my life' led me to integrated education

Principal of Hazelwood Integrated College, Kathleen Gormley
Image caption Kathleen Gormley was principal of a Catholic school and is now head of Hazelwood Integrated College

"All my life has led me to this day."

Katheen Gormley spent ten years as principal of St Cecilia's College, a Catholic girls' secondary school in Londonderry, and is now principal of Hazelwood Integrated College in Belfast.

On Tuesday, the Alliance Party published what it said should be the Northern Ireland Executive's strategy for creating a shared future.

Their proposals include the target of educating 20% of children in integrated schools in 2020.

"I come from the idea that schools - regardless of what they're set up as - should be excellent schools," explained Ms. Gormley

"I had the privilege of being headteacher of an excellent school, a Catholic school in Derry, for ten years, and I now have a new challenge in a new sector, but the children in schools, they're basically the same.

"The difference with Hazelwood is that there children are from different cultures and different religions but they're all taught under one roof, and that does make things like community relations easier.

"Students do integrate and they do integrate from all sectors, but I suppose they do it more naturally in the integrated sector.

"I know Catholic schools and controlled schools spend a lot of time on community relations programmes, and in an integrated school that happens naturally day and daily.

"I have to say that after involvement in education for 25 years I suppose all my life has led me to this day, because I do feel that a way forward is for children to be educated together.

'Natural'

"I do think that the more and more politics becomes a sectarian thing, the less people are going to send their children to integrated schools, but it is surprising the movement is still popular.

"I was contacted by two principals in the last month to ask how they would move their schools to becoming integrated, so whilst we may see the setting up of more integrated schools, we may see more schools transfer to integrated status simply because the management style is different in an integrated school.

"How many children - and I was one of them - go to a Catholic school and then to a Catholic post-primary school and then go to university or to a job and find that it's mixed.

"I suppose integration is a natural thing but I don't know if we can impose that or whether we can culturally grow towards that.

"I think we should say that an integrated school is a good way of schooling and encourage people towards that rather than imposing a sort of de facto solution.

"As I look out now, I see children walking together across the playground and their skins are different colours and I know they have three, four, five different languages, and I know they are from different religions.

"I suppose the value of integrated education is that when parents come here they come together to talk about their children and you have integration not simply from 11 to 18, you have the parents and the community behind that.

"When you see that in action, its very hard to argue against."

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