After much anticipation the widely supported proposal from Brookeborough PS and St Mary’s PS for a Shared Education Campus has been given the go ahead after a joint announcement from Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Education Minister John O’Dowd
Brookeborough is one of two partnerships selected by the Department of Education. The Northern Ireland Executive’s ‘Together: Building a United Community’ strategy launched in 2013 included a committed to build 10 shared education campuses. The Stormont House Agreement included capital funding of £50million a year over the next ten years for shared and integrated schools.
The two primary schools in Brookeborough have been pioneers in developing cross-community linkages over the last 40 years. Through the Shared Education Programme the children enjoy a variety of activities and learning opportunities where friendships and links between communities have been formed. Together the pupils have taken part in regular shared classes and projects with schools even on occasion sharing teachers. There has also been numerous drama performances and the schools’ joint choir winning first prize at the Fermanagh Feis. The trailblazing work has resulted in excellent educational and community relations outcomes. The new Shared Campus will help develop this work even further, benefiting pupils and the wider community.
At parents evenings held in 2014 interest was expressed in advancing a local area solution for the future educational needs of the children of Brookeborough. The desire to build upon the linkages between the two schools led to a community consultation, the results of which showed overwhelming school, parental and community based support for the development of a Shared Education Campus in Brookeborough. Politicians, Council, local Churches, Managing Authorities and the wider community have praised this ground breaking solution, which will be the first of its kind in Fermanagh, as the natural evolution after over 40 years of collaboratively working together.
Representatives from the Primary Schools met with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at Stormont and received high praise during a briefing to the Education Committee on their innovative model which will involve a high level of sharing. Principals, teachers and boards of governors visited two Shared Campuses in Scotland to see on the ground the advantages from an educational, community and economic perspective that are possible through the establishment of a Shared Campus.
Hazel Gardiner Principal of Brookeborough PS outlined the excellent relationship between the schools, going back to the 1970s, with activities continuing though incredibly challenging times “Over many years both schools have reached out the hand of friendship, working together in the interests of our pupils and the broader community. In more recent years thanks to the Fermanagh Trust we have been able to partake in a wider range of activities, developing even closer bonds and today we stand on the threshold of a Shared Campus for our children and the community. It is really exciting news for Brookeborough that we will be able to cement the already established relationship between our two schools.”
By working together in the new campus schools will be able to greatly enhance provision and shared education will be a daily experience. Pupils from both schools will benefit from new shared facilities, allowing them to make the most of their talents and all abilities. Staff will also benefit from mutually supportive networks. Facilities would offer wider community involvement with leisure and sports facilities and multi-purpose halls.
Dermot Finlay Principal of St Mary’s PS added “Our pioneering work together has resulted in outstanding educational and societal outcomes. The excellent news that our Shared Campus is going ahead is a huge step in our journey together and allows us to build on that good work. It is a bottom-up local solution which meets local needs and will retain rural school provision. Our schools enjoy working together and we are all very excited about our future plans.”
Lauri McCusker, Director of the Fermanagh Trust which has helped facilitate Shared Education in County Fermanagh said “Congratulations to Brookeborough PS and St Mary’s PS. They have to be commended for the work they’ve been involved in and for getting to this stage. The sharing they have done beyond the curricular requirements is very impressive and it is clear to see the benefits that come from working collaboratively. The principle is to take things incrementally, to start with what people want rather than trying to force it. It’s a great step forward for the Brookeborough community and we wish the schools well for their work ahead.”
Welcoming the announcement First Minister Arlene Foster said “I particularly look forward to visiting the new shared campus in Brookeborough in my home county of Fermanagh. I know that everyone involved in that project has waited a long time to hear this fantastic news today. I wish all of the schools set to benefit from this good news well as they move forward with their plans.”
Minister of Education John O’Dowd concluded “Schools are the heart of communities and I am delighted that as result of today’s announcement many more communities will see the tangible outworkings of political progress. The completion of these projects will see an additional 3000 pupils being educated together in shared campus schools and enable increases in enrolment at integrated schools of over 1400 pupils. I know that for many of these schools today’s announcement has been long awaited. They can now move ahead to plan for the future, creating state of the art facilities that will enhance the education of many young people well into the future.”