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Braidside Integrated Primary & Nursery School
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Braidside: A History

 
 

One of the most important social developments in Northern Ireland over the last two decades has been the opening of integrated schools across the province. The first, Lagan College, was established in Belfast in 1981.Today there are almost 60 such schools and more applicants than available places. Together these integrated schools have helped Northern Ireland move on from its troubled past by fostering understanding amongst young children of religious, cultural and social backgrounds different to their own.

However, when Braidside Integrated Primary was first founded in 1989 it was amidst much scepticism that such a school in Ballymena could attract enough pupils to remain open. Now, almost twenty years down the line, Braidside is not only still standing but has undergone huge growth. From its makeshift beginnings in a former factory, the primary now has its own site. Pupil numbers have also soared from the fifty students that originally made up the school.

Over the years, despite other changes, Braidside has remained steadfastly committed to the principles that inspired its foundation. Primarily this is a belief that integrated education provides children with the best start in life. A ratio of 30:30 of the two main Christian traditions in Northern Ireland, Catholicism and Protestantism, is maintained (with the rest of the pupils coming from other backgrounds). It is the express aim of the school to bring the two main cultures of Northern Ireland together to help build a more peaceful, harmonious future.  Braidside also adheres to other important principles such as its commitment to bringing out the full potential of each and every child that passes through its doors.

It was in 1988 that campaigning to open an integrated primary school first began in Ballymena. A core group of three families formed to back the endeavour, holding public meetings with the aim of both raising awareness and gathering funds. With the support of NICIE (the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education), an umbrella organisation dedicated to offering support and advice to integrated schools, they were able to register enough students to open the school the following year, despite some misgivings in the local community. Four staff members were appointed, including Mr John Moulden as Principal. To house the primary, a former shirt factory on Wakehurst Road was rented.

However, as the school still lacked support from the Department of Education, it was left primarily to the parents themselves to ensure a successful opening. Over the summer, along with the help of some international students, they made heroic efforts to ensure the rented premises were fit for teaching and that the school would be equipped with the necessary supplies. In September 1989, Braidside finally opened with a Nursery and two primary classes and enjoyed a successful first year. At the end of it, the school received a great boost when it was recognised by the Department of Education and was given funding (although this did not extend to the nursery which continued to be run as a charity until the late nineties).

Since those humble beginnings in 1988, Braidside has undeniably come a long way. In 1992, the primary finally received its own site. A piece of land on Fry’s Road was purchased and temporary prefabricated buildings were put in place over the summer to be used as classrooms during the new school year. A new principle, Mr Robert Scott, was also appointed in 1992 due to the retirement of Mr Moulden. By this time, pupil numbers had increased and there was now a nursery, P1/P2, P3/P4 and P5/7 class. In subsequent years, this steady growth has continued, making necessary the addition of further classroom blocks on the site. In 1996 the establishment of an integrated secondary school in Ballymena, Slemish College, meant that Braidside children could opt to continue their integrated education. About 60% of P7 leavers progress to Slemish each year.

Today, Braidside has approximately 300 students (including the nursery which now has 26 funded places each year), drawn from a variety of backgrounds. A healthy balance in terms of religious intake is always maintained, not just among the students but also among the staff and the board of governors. Braidside continues to pride itself on its diversity, which it feels is beneficial to the pupils. The school is now much enlarged from its beginnings on Fry’s Road. Facilities presently include 12 classrooms, a main hall/reception block, library, special needs suite, recreational field, nature area and playground.

The focus in Braidside is very much on having every child achieve their full potential. The school aims to cater for children of every ability and has programmes in place for children with special needs who may require extra tuition. Over the years, Braidside has also had the privilege to welcome esteemed guests such as former Prime Minister John Major and, in recent years, local assembly members.

Although the school has been in temporary buildings since 1992, in the near future, the school will be able to offer state of the art facilities to all its deserving students. Braidside, meanwhile, despite less that perfect buildings, will continue to offer children an excellent education and remain committed to integration. Braidside has clearly come a long way from its beginnings on the factory site, whilst never moving away from the principles that have governed it since foundation almost two decades ago. The sceptics have definitely been proved wrong by the school not only enduring but also growing.