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NI's first interdenominational school could be west of the Bann

By Rebecca Black

Published 26/02/2016

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

The first interdenominational school in Northern Ireland could be set up in the west of the province.

The concept was first suggested at a meeting of Stormont's education committee last February.

A public meeting to gauge support for the idea in the local area was held in Omagh on Wednesday.

A Department of Education official told the meeting that more than half of the schools in Omagh and in Co Fermanagh had fewer pupils than the recommended sustainable number.

The proposed new category of school would be managed jointly by the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and Methodist and Presbyterian Churches.

It would be faith-based and would have a Christian ethos.

Maintained schools are currently managed by the Council for Catholic Maintained Education, and controlled schools take input from the main Protestant churches.

The meeting in Omagh heard some existing schools were interested in changing. However, no names were revealed.

Stormont's education committee heard last February that the Department of Education was drawing up guidance for the new category of school.

The plan was revealed as clerics from the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches gave evidence to the committee's inquiry into shared and integrated education.

They said the initiative for what they termed a "multi-faith school" was inspired by requests from grassroots bodies. The Protestant clerics said they had been in talks with Catholic bishops over the matter and that almost all elements had been agreed.

The inspiration for the interdenominational school came from Hope Academy in Liverpool.

Dr Peter Hamill from the Transferor Representatives' Council, which represents the main Protestant Churches, pointed out that interdenominational schools were not the same as integrated schools.

"In a jointly managed school, it would be very clear that this would have a Christian ethos," he said.

"It would have a clear policy on how worship would be conducted and how faith was reflected in the running of the school."

The proposed school's board of governors would also have equal representation from the Catholic and Protestant Churches.

The meeting heard that a small number of schools were exploring mergers in order to be jointly run by the Churches.

That would involve an existing controlled schools amalgamating with Catholic maintained schools.

The meeting was also told that schools which had small pupil numbers or questions over their sustainability were most likely to consider such a merger.

However, other more viable schools may also consider becoming joint Church institutions - those involved in shared education projects, for example.

Education Minister John O'Dowd would ultimately have to approve the establishment of any such venture.

Around 40 people are reported to have attended the meeting on Wednesday night, which was organised by the Rural Centre for Shared Education.

Belfast Telegraph

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