NI schools look to Scottish shared education model

Shared campuses have been tackling division in Scotland as Maggie Taggart reports.

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Catholic and controlled schools in Northern Ireland are being encouraged to bid for funding to set up joint education campuses.

It's a sensitive issue and a big step for them, but some have been looking for advice across the Irish Sea in Scotland, where many religious and non-denominational schools are sharing buildings and outside spaces.

While Glasgow has historically had its share of Protestant and Catholic sectarianism, it now has four shared campuses.

Across the whole of Scotland, 35 sites have been built with Catholic, non-denominational and other sorts of schools joining to eat, play and work on special projects together.

'Autonomy'

For Michelle Smith, the deputy head of St Teresa's Primary in Glasgow, it is an ideal solution.

Their Keppoch campus was the first to open in the city, 10 years ago, and houses a Catholic school, a non-denominational school, a special school and a nursery.

"We retain our autonomy and children come here and learn about their Catholic religion, but we also use the same playground, canteen, gym and some smaller rooms," she says.

Michelle Smith and Evelyn Gibson Michelle Smith and Evelyn Gibson work in the same building

The principal of Saracen Primary, Evelyn Gibson, says being together in the same building allows the staff and children to work together and break down barriers.

However, she says: "I would prefer total integration. I am sure there would be concerns but it is not impossible."

For Michael McGrath, the director of Scottish Catholic Education Service, the church's ideal would be a free-standing Catholic school, but the financial problems in Glasgow make that unfeasible.

"A joint campus is the exception rather than the norm. It's not our first preference, but where numbers are small, a discrete Catholic school cannot be justified."

Benview sign Two primary schools share facilities at Benview campus

At the newest Glasgow shared campus, Benview, Susan Quinn is head teacher of St Cuthbert's Catholic primary.

Start Quote

The parents spent about two years before the move, getting to know each other”

End Quote Emma McIntosh Parent

It has only 80 pupils, compared to campus partner Highpark non-denominational primary, which has 200 pupils.

For the parents there, getting a new building was a bigger incentive than mixing the religions.

"We've benefited greatly from Glasgow City Council's decision," she says.

"Since we've moved in, everybody has worked really hard together and the parents' councils have joint ventures and they've even been nominated for partnership awards."

Emma McIntosh's children attend Highpark Primary. and she says the change initially brought uncertainty.

"What helped was the parents spent about two years before the move, getting to know each other," she says.

"I think bringing together the extra resources helps the children.

"And mixing is good because when they go out into the workplace, they're not separated between Catholics and Protestants so this is a good way of teaching the children to be together as one."

The education minister in Northern Ireland, John O'Dowd, has already won support for a joint campus at Lisanelly in Omagh, and applications are now open for another 10 campuses within the next five years.

The shared building idea is currently being explored by a number of school groups.

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