Cookstown could become the bench-mark for shared education in Northern Ireland, if an ambitious new plan between three of the town’s primary schools comes to fruition.
That was the bold claim from Neil Downing, the principal of Cookstown Primary School, who laid out details of the exciting proposal to provide shared facilities for his school, Holy Trinity Primary and Phoenix Integrated.
“It is important that people did not mistake this plan as ‘integrated education’ but rather a model for shared facilities.”
Their plan is titled the Cookstown SEED Centre, meaning Sharing Educational Excellence at Derryloran.
The application submitted to Department of Education’s - Shared Education Campuses Programme - sets out a proposal for an Education Centre delivering shared classes and community activities through two interlinked and connected facilities on either campus of Cookstown PS and Holy Trinity.
Both facilities will offer daily joint classes involving all the schools in the partnership.
The Cookstown project is supported by 23 schools and is cross-sectorial and cross phase.
The new proposed facilities will be 500 metres apart and open for use by 3200 pupils within walking distance.
“We believe that this is a truly gound-breaking initiative, which we have been working together on for a long time,” said Mr Downing, speaking on behalf of the three schools.
“Our schools have been working together really well for years, but this facility will take it to a whole new level.”
The head-master said it was important that people did not mistake this plan as ‘integrated education’ but rather a model for shared facilities which he believes could be opened up to the many other, more rural schools in the Cookstown area.
He said the two new buildings - which they have estimated to cost a very reasonable £4m - are just the ‘bricks and mortar’ of the project.
“It is the education and services which we will be able to provide, that is really exciting,” he said.
“We hope that it can address many more of the issues affecting our young people here in Cookstown, which can impact on the education and future prospects.”
Mr Downing also outlined some alarming statistics, which revealed Cookstown was ranked fifth for Employment Deprivation out of the 26 council areas in Northern Ireland.
He added: “It is our intention that Cookstown SEED Centre will be a beacon for shared education and will facilitate same for all the children, families and community in the wider Cookstown area.”