Sunday Life

**Finally, someone in public life with some perception

All together now

By Michael McKeown
05 September 2004

DAVID Hewitt believes that the decision to 'transform' Glencraig Primary School into an integrated school, will benefit his pupils for the rest of their lives.

"If we don't educate our children together in an open environment, we can't expect them to solve problems together as adults," he told Sunday Life.

And this week, his views have been echoed by a host of celebrities, both local and international, who have spoken publicly to encourage more schools to follow in Glencraig's lead.

"We started the transformation process about two years ago," explained David.

"We already had a number of Catholic children enrolled at the school, and I felt that these children were missing out, as the school was unable to offer teaching in the Catholic Sacraments. At Glencraig, we have a tradition of celebrating achievements in the lives of our pupils, including sporting, musical, academic or religious landmarks.

"Sometimes, we present certificates in assembly, and get a photograph taken to mark the occasion.

"As principal, I was unsure how we could celebrate a child's First Holy Communion.

"Some of the non Catholic children in the school were unaware what a Roman Catholic was, and I wanted to celebrate, this very significant occasion without ambiguity.

"That's what really got me thinking about transformation."

David, who has been principal at the school for eight years, started making inquiries with the education authorities.

But, although the teaching staff and the board of governors were very positive, he was unsure how parents of existing pupils in the school would respond to the idea.

Working alongside the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), the school conducted a secret ballot of parents, to gauge their reaction.

"Over 80pc of parents voted, and 75pc of these voted yes," said David.

"The result was overwhelmingly positive. "There were a few negative responses, but these were based on concerns about class sizes, as opposed to having a sectarian dimension.

"We then submitted a plan to the Department of Education, and to the other schools in the area.

"There were absolutely no objections, and we formally applied for transformation to integrated status.

"An announcement was made in March, this year, that it had been accepted."

David believes that transformation will enhance the support Glencraig can offer it's pupils, and the changes taking place are exciting for everyone associated with the school.

"We have 186 pupils this year, and there will be some really positive changes as a result of transformation.

"We have appointed a new teacher whose remit is for Religious Education - she can prepare children for the sacraments and cater for other minority faith pupils, who might attend the school.

"At the moment, NICIE is preparing a Religious Education syllabus for integrated schools, which will combine elements from different faiths.

"This will encourage the children to be aware of difference.

"The specifics of each faith will be taught within a small group, with more general religious study for the whole class.

"This new RE syllabus will create a balance for both Protestant and Catholic children, as well as catering for other minority faiths.

"Unless schools take a lead role in bringing children together to understand each other's backgrounds, the entrenchment in some parts of the community in NI will continue.

"We're hopeful that as a school, we can encourage children to talk through the issues in a safe environment, where there are no put downs or criticism, but that both sides are listened to and we can learn to respect each other.

"The more children come together, the greater the hope is for Northern Ireland."

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