The DUP’s party conference included an education panel led by Chairman of the Education Committee Peter Weir MLA. The panel discussed a range of issues such as area planning, school starting age and the benefits of Shared Education.
Commenting on the Shared Education Bill which has passed it’s second stage at the Assembly Mr Weir said there are two interactive aspects. “One on the broader cross community element of things and the second is on actually trying to build links between schools on different socio-economic backgrounds which is vital to try and ensure that there’s that learning experience because shared education can be both. It has both a societal benefit and educational benefit and also from an efficiency side of things”.
Junior Minister Emma Pengelly MLA said “There are many elements to shared education. The umbrella term is used to respect certain issues as parental choice but it also recognises that there is a big benefit, an evidence based benefit in terms of mixing.”
Andrea Sawyer, Principal of Augher Central Primary School added “For Shared Education to work, it needs to start with the staff. If you have staff who buy in and engage you are on to a winning start straight away.”
“Learning opportunities are there and there is great interaction on the ground. Our community has had a hard and very long past but as a school we are very forward thinking, we do want to develop our Shared Education. It’s there, it’s happening, we just need to encourage it and we need to make it a bit easier for schools to access the facilities and access the money for Shared Education.”
The Chairman Peter Weir outlined the key role schools play as ‘community anchors’ –“The impact of a school being at the heart of a community means that if you close a school you rip the heart out of that. Sometimes that has not always been realised by the Department and indeed previously by the ELBs.”