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Northen Ireland's first joint faith school a step closer

By Rebecca Black

Published 17/06/2016

Hope Academy in Liverpool
Hope Academy in Liverpool

Plans are well under way for Northern Ireland's first joint faith school.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last year that senior clerics from all the major churches had been in negotiations to create a new category of school that would be mixed in terms of religious intake but preserve a faith ethos.

Now it has emerged that two small primary schools in Co Londonderry will come together to form the first joint faith school in Northern Ireland.

Desertmartin Primary and nearby Knocknagin Primary intend to merge under the joint management of the Roman Catholic Church and Church of Ireland.

Parents of pupils of both schools are currently being consulted about the proposal.

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.

Rev Trevor Gribben said the Transferors' Representative Council - which comprises clergy from the three main Protestant churches - said then that they had received expressions of interest from a number of schools about becoming mixed denominational.

He did not wish to name any schools but gave the example of a village where both a controlled and a maintained primary school had become unviable in terms of numbers.

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 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.

The main categories of schools in Northern Ireland are currently the controlled sector, the Catholic maintained schools, integrated schools and Irish medium schools.

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."

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