Ambitious plans to move secondary schools from different sectors onto the same site form part of government’s new shared future proposals. There is no detail on where these new campuses will be located, however.
Northern Ireland has multiple non-grammar secondary school sectors – Catholic-maintained, state-controlled, Irish-medium and integrated.
While many of them take part in shared education projects with schools in other sectors, there have been no major moves to progress further. Coalitions between Catholic and non-faith schools were largely ignored in the recent Northern Ireland-wide “area planning” exercise.
In addition, the only shared campus project on the table at present has received little support from the schools it has been designed to benefit. Building work is yet to commence, five years after the Lisanelly project was first mooted. About £130 million will be spent converting the former military barracks into a massive shared campus involving six schools.
It has only secured one tenant, however – Arvalee Special School, which burned down last year.
Education minister John O’Dowd says future capital funding for the development of the post-primary sector in Omagh will be directed toward the campus.
This means schools in dire need of new buildings will only get new accommodation if they agree to move to Lisanelly.
Experts predict that a similar approach could help achieve the 10 new campuses.
Mr O’Dowd’s Executive colleagues, first minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, say the new projects will “build on the proposals for Lisanelly”.
“The first step will be an assessment and identification of potential options. Shared education campuses have the potential to bring together a range of schools and aid sharing of classes, subjects and sports and extra-curricular activities,” they said.
”These campuses will be the pathfinder projects potentially leading on to a wider programme of shared education capital projects. The campuses will also integrate community activities and resources and other services including statutory provision where appropriate.”