Principals, governors, managing authorities, elected representatives and church leaders joined the Fermanagh Trust at the Lough Erne Resort to celebrate the Fermanagh Shared Education Programme. This was a chance to congratulate schools on their success, hard work and major contribution in ensuring that ‘sharing’ is now in the DNA of how education is delivered.
Alan Williamson Principal Florencecourt PS, Marie O’Shea Principal St John the Baptist PS, David Bolton Vice Chairman Fermanagh Trust, Paul Sweeney Permanent Secretary Department of Education, Paddy Harte International Fund for Ireland and Lauri McCusker Director Fermanagh Trust
The Trust has been involved in shared education since 2008, when it undertook extensive research into the potential for a pilot project on shared education in Fermanagh. The research led to a funded project, the ‘Fermanagh Shared Education Programme’, which was awarded £2m over 5 years, from Atlantic Philanthropies and the International Fund for Ireland. It was successful in getting 58 primary and post-primary schools in the County, involved in shared education, with almost 5,000 pupils per annum participating in shared classes.
Guest speaker Paul Sweeney, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education said during the event “On behalf of the Minister thank you so much for the work you do. In all the evaluations that have been carried out you have more than achieved, you have very often exceeded all the aims and objectives. You’re doing terrific work and long may it continue.”
“The work that you have been doing in Fermanagh has been truly pathfinder work and it has greatly influenced policy formulation. As administrative head of the Department I can confirm to you that the work you have been doing at a local level has been innovative and has greatly assisted the Department of Education in terms of our thinking.”
Referring to how much of an exciting time this is for shared education in terms of funding and legislation, Mr Sweeney added “All that work has been informed by your practice. The projects and programmes that will be truly sustainable will be the ones with the sort of spirit in this room. You’re not chasing grants, you’re in it for real because you’re putting young people first, you’re pupil centric and you’re about bringing about real, sustainable, effective change”.
Shared Education has resulted in educational benefits for pupils, societal benefits in terms of better relations between communities and economic benefits through joint work and cross-sectoral collaboration. The Assembly’s formal adoption and mainstreaming of shared education through the Delivering Social Change Programme, Shared Campuses Programme, and the proposed Shared Education Bill etc shows the effectiveness of the programme in Fermanagh and creates the potential for the good work to continue.
David Bolton, Vice Chairman of the Fermanagh Trust said “Shared Education has been an integral part of education in Fermanagh for the last eight years. It is important that we acknowledge the journey and celebrate the exemplary work that has taken place across Fermanagh’s schools in pioneering shared education, which has drawn praise from all sections of the community and all political parties. The significant steps in terms of government policy is the culmination of many years of hard work, with schools in Fermanagh at the forefront of the initiative.”
Paddy Harte, International Fund for Ireland Board Member added “The Fund is proud of the significant investment we have made through Fermanagh Trust to support the advancement of shared education. The models established here have outlined practical and achievable ways for schools to retain identities, break down barriers and provide new opportunities for young people to learn together and reach the highest possible standards of educational achievement. Sharing can and must be a central part of all educational delivery in Northern Ireland.
Fermanagh Trust has been instrumental in developing ground-breaking models of sharing across and between sectors and has brought real educational benefits to thousands of pupils. We commend Fermanagh Trust on its commitment to shared education and recognise the important difference it is making.”
Building on their work the Fermanagh Trust has launched the initiative ‘Rural Centre for Shared Education’. Trustees remain committed to developing linkages between schools; working to identify and develop local solutions to meet local needs; and contribute to more cohesive and sustainable communities.