Hollywood star Liam Neeson has backed a new campaign in favour of integrated education, claiming the time has come for all children in Northern Ireland to be educated together.
The Northern Irish actor has released a short video supporting an initiative from the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) to make integrated education available in almost every school across the region.
The Ballymena-born star says: “We look to our children for the future, so why do we continue to educate them apart: different religions, different backgrounds, different schools?
“There is another way. Most people agree that educating children together is a better way forward for our society.
“It’s time to turn our aspiration into reality, to believe in your children and believe in their future.”
The campaign, called Integrate My School – I’m In, aims to give parents the power to influence schools to transform to integrated status.
At the centre of the campaign is a website – www.integratemyschool.com – where parents of children at primary and post-primary schools in Northern Ireland can register their interest in transforming their school to an integrated one.
IEF chief executive Tina Merron said research has repeatedly revealed that a majority of Northern Ireland parents want their school to become integrated.
She said integration is supported by the Department for Education and government policy in Northern Ireland, and that if a minimum of 20% of parents at a school express an interest, the board of governors is required to put the matter to the whole school for consultation.
“By logging on and registering their interest confidentially on the IntegrateMySchool website, parents could take almost any school in Northern Ireland on the first steps towards integration,” Ms Merron said.
“This is not an overnight process and schools can only transform to integrated status with parental approval and parental involvement, but this online registration is a very important first step in showing the interest of the school community, in complete confidentiality and without prejudice.
“A strong expression of interest from enough parents at a school means there is the momentum to drive the school to the next stage.”
Baroness May Blood, IEF campaign chairwoman, said the process of bringing children together for their education is not something which relies on politicians to begin, but is in the hands of parents and schools.
“The regulations are already in place, so it only takes parents to show their interest and the wheels of change can begin to turn.
“This campaign marks the start of a very interesting and exciting period of change in education in Northern Ireland – and in our society as a whole.”
The IntegrateMySchool website features video instructions on the simple three-step registration process.
All of Northern Ireland’s primary and post-primary schools are listed alphabetically and through a search tool, parents can find their child’s school, fill in the confidential online form to submit their details and click on a link to receive an email.