Mid Ulster primary schools set to make history

Desertmartin Primary School. INMM1213-300ar.
Desertmartin Primary School. INMM1213-300ar.

Two south Derry primary schools are set to make history by becoming the first jointly-run church school in Northern Ireland.

Desertmartin and Knocknagin schools are planning to merge and be jointly managed by the Roman Catholic Church and Church of Ireland.

Desertmartin is a Church of Ireland school, while Knocknagin is a Catholic Maintained Primary. The proposed new school would be faith-based and have a Christian ethos. It would have a clear policy on how worship is conducted within the school, and how religious education is taught.

Knocknagin Primary currently has 53 pupils, while Desertmartin has 23 pupils.

Both schools have worked closely together on shared education projects for 10 years and have taught classes jointly in the past. The staff and boards of governors of both schools are behind the move, and parents of pupils are now being consulted about the plans.

Clerics from the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist denominations told Stormont’s Education Committee in February 2015 that joint faith schools will be a new type of school founded on a common Christian principle.

The clergy behind the negotiations had been inspired by a school in Liverpool, Hope Academy, which was formed in 2011 by merging Catholic and Anglican schools.

It is a joint faith school sponsored by Liverpool Hope University, the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool.

Jim Clarke, the chief executive of CCMS, said that they were “committed to pursuing the concept of joint faith schools and were very supportive of the project in Knocknagin and Desertmartin”.

Dr Peter Hamill, from the Church of Ireland Board of Education, has been assisting the schools.

“The churches want to preserve high-quality education,” he said. “They see that can be done very well in a faith ethos, where Christian values are being maintained.” The main categories of schools are the controlled sector, the Catholic maintained, integrated and Irish medium schools.