In 1981, Lagan College opened its doors as the first integrated school in Northern Ireland, and 40 years on, there are now 68 across the province.

Marking this significant milestone, Lagan College planted an oak tree on the grounds of the school to symbolise the growth and unlimited potential of integrated education. It will then gift an oak tree to all the other Integrated schools to plant and celebrate 40 years.

Principal of Lagan College, Amanda McNamee MBE says: “This is a very special moment for our school and for Integrated Education. It is hard to believe we are marking 40 years, but the progress and acceptance of Integrated Education has been encouraging and is demonstrated by its continued growth.

“Today marks an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come and recognise that we have a journey still ahead. We believe that the planting of the tree is a simple and profound message of hope and an emblem we will send to others, so we can collectively celebrate our friendship, joint legacy, and combined optimism for the future.”

Across 40 years, Integrated Education has grown from 28 pupils to just over 25,000 with every school either opened by groups of parents or transformed to Integrated status through parental ballot. Integrated Education is a story about hope in the face of separation and by intentionally bringing people together, it can deliver quality education and contribute to peace and reconciliation. The Integrated Education movement believe this an accomplishment worth celebrating.

“Through learning together, we can create a shared society,” says Chief Executive Officer at Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, Roisin Marshall. “As we reflect on 40 years of Integrated Education, we continue to draw inspiration from the parents and pioneers who developed new schools and transformed existing ones. We welcome onboard four ‘Transformed’ schools this month and with the Private Members’ Bill for Integrated Education moving through the legislative process in the NI Assembly, we feel there is further growth ahead.

“I want to congratulate Lagan College on reaching such a landmark and applaud them on their initiative to bring the whole Integrated schools’ community together with the gifting of oak trees. All trees are constantly developing and evolving, and it is symbolic of integrated education as we move forward with ambition, renewed vigour and strengthened friendships.”

Richard Lemon, Chair of the Integrated Education Fund said: “The IEF and all its donors wish to congratulate Lagan College on reaching this magnificent milestone. It reminds us of the dedication, passion and commitment of those founding parents, governors and staff who made it happen and who continue to serve as an inspiration to so many. In the absence of government planning for more integrated education, it is still parents and schools that remain the driving force behind this movement for change and the IEF will do all that it can to support them. As the saying goes, ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.’”

The 40th anniversary celebrations for Integrated Education will continue through the next 12 months with a series of events and initiatives taking place.