By Sean Ryan - 28 February, 2016
A public meeting on Shared Education held in Omagh has heard about proposals for Northern Ireland’s four main Churches to jointly run some schools.
In partnership with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, the Rural Centre for Shared Education, which developed and has managed Shared Education Programmes in schools since 2009, held two information sessions at the Silverbirch Hotel in the Co Tyrone town this week.
Jointly Managed Schools is a new model agreed by the main Churches and the Northern Ireland Department of Education as a means of creating strong sustainable schools and having a positive impact on the educational landscape.
Any such school would be managed by the Catholic Church, Church of Ireland, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. It would be faith-based and have a Christian ethos.
There are currently no schools of this type in Northern Ireland but the meeting heard that some existing schools were interested in changing.
However, no names of schools considering the move were revealed.
Speaking about the initiative Catherine Ward from the Rural Centre for Shared Education said, “This is major new model which provides an opportunity for children to be educated together that local communities may consider.”
“We would encourage those with an interest to come along to one of our sessions and explore this new development. It is a very interesting concept which provides an alternative approach for school communities.”
She added, “With the growth of a variety of shared education initiatives, some controlled and maintained schools have expressed an interest in establishing a ‘jointly managed church school’, where both the representatives of the Transferor Churches and the Catholic Church working together have a joint role in the management of the school.”
Dr Peter Hamill from the Transferors Representative Council (TRC), which represents the main Protestant Churches, said Church schools were not the same as integrated schools.
“In a jointly managed school, it would be very clear that this would have a Christian ethos. It would have a clear policy on how worship would be conducted and how faith was reflected in the running of the school,” he said.
The new school’s board of governors would also have equal representation from the Catholic and Protestant Churches.
The meeting heard that a small number of schools were exploring mergers in order to be jointly run by the Churches.
The meeting was told that schools with small pupil numbers, or questions over their sustainability, were most likely to consider such a merger.
However, other more viable schools may also consider becoming joint church schools – those involved in shared education projects for example.
NI Education Minister, John O’Dowd, would ultimately have to approve the setting up of any jointly managed church school.
The meeting heard from representatives of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the TRC as well as officials from the Department of Education (DE) and Education Authority (EA).
There are a number of joint faith schools elsewhere in the UK, run jointly by the Catholic Church and Church of England.