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Cross-comunity shared teacher for NI schools

Resource type: News

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Children who attend two small mid-Ulster primary schools of separate religious traditions have become classmates through the first shared teacher to be appointed in Northern Ireland.

There are just 65 pupils combined at Desertmartin Primary, a Church of Ireland maintained school, and Knocknagin Primary, a Catholic maintained school, which are less than a mile away in the village of Desertmartin, Co Londonderry.

Magherafelt-based Rebecca Henry was recruited by four governors from each school. She has spent the last three years teaching at Braidside Integrated Primary in Ballymena.

“Shared classes have increased in number and frequency from 63 shared hours in 2010-11 to 106 shared hours in my first two months in post,” she said.

“The younger children have had no problems mixing with each other and while the older pupils were a bit quiet at the start they now say there is no fun without their classmates from the other school being there.”

Under the Primary Integrating and Enriching Education (PIEE) project, operated by the North Eastern Education and Library Board with funding from the International Fund for Ireland and the Atlantic Philanthropies, the two schools have been working together to foster closer ties over the past two years leading to the ground-breaking move to share a teacher.

Mrs Henry teaches the ‘World Around Us’ area of the curriculum to joint classes in both schools as well as ‘Personal Development and Mutual Understanding’ and Literacy and Numeracy support.

Knocknagin principal John Jon McWilliams said: “The pupils see each other as friends and classmates rather than as children they go on a trip with, and the parents are fully supportive of it. 
“We set sensible targets and we’re delighted with how it’s going.

“As well as the children becoming friends the parents have got used to collecting their children from the respective schools and get a chance to meet one another.”

“All the children are benefiting from opportunities which the individual schools could not provide but as a result of the partnership have become possible,” said Desertmartin principal Lynn Fullerton.

“Pupils are exposed to a more enriched curriculum. The partnership has enabled children from different religious backgrounds to be educated together. At the same time each school retains its own ethos while respecting that of its partner school.”

As well as enriching the curriculum, taking part in the PIEE project has provided the pupils from the two schools with opportunities for more extra-curricular activities, including visits to Bushmills Education Centre for outdoor pursuits, a visit from Birds of Prey, a six week course in Samba drumming and a joint concert at Christmas.

The North Eastern Education and Library Board’s PIEE project manager Roisin Marshall said that there are currently ten cross-community partnerships involving 27 small, mainly rural schools in the Board’s area under the Sharing Education Programme funded by the International Fund for Ireland and Atlantic Philanthropies.

“These schools have begun to share in everyday curriculum areas. The programme aims to show that sustained and ‘normalised’ collaborative contact is possible across the religious divide and that there can be benefits for pupils, teachers, parents and, in the long term, the wider community,” Mrs Marshall affirmed.

The North Eastern Education and Library Board is an Atlantic grantee.