“Each Presbytery Tour is an important opportunity for a Moderator to get ‘out and about’ and encourage the local Church. Education always plays an important part of any tour, which is why we went into a second week visiting three schools when they came back after half term,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.
Route Presbytery stretches from Bushmills in the north, round the coast road to Ballycastle, extending across much of north County Antrim with the town of Ballymoney at its heart. During his tour, the Moderator visited Bushmills Primary School, William Pinkerton Memorial Primary School in Dervock, and Ballycastle High School with former Moderator Dr Ian McNie.
Ian Williamson, principal of Ballycastle High School, greeted the visitors where they were treated to two songs sung by the school choir. Later the Moderator had an opportunity to engage the pupil Senior Leadership Teams from the school and the town’s Cross and Passion College, who have a long-standing Shared Education Partnership which dates back over several decades.
Talking about the visit Mr Williamson said, “We very much enjoyed being able to welcome the Moderator and Dr McNie to the school, as it gave us an opportunity to show them our school and highlight the significant benefits of the collaborative working arrangement that we have with Cross and Passion College.
“The Shared Education Partnership dates back over several decades and has grown in significance in recent years, enabling staff, pupils, and parents from different backgrounds, to interact in a sustained, regular basis which brings significant educational, social and community benefits.
“Working closely with my counterpart at the College, Mrs Geraldine Duffy, the extensive nature of this embedded arrangement sees approximately 300 pupils share classes each week, with the partnership providing a wide range of subjects at Key Stages 4 and 5, which enables both schools to meet their statutory requirements. Pupils in both schools, benefit from a broad range of curricular choice, allowing them to make the most of their talents and abilities, built on an attitude of mutual respect, all of which help to shape pupil perspectives and attitudes well into the future.” he said.
As part of his presentation, Mr Williamson outlined plans for a new Shared Campus in Ballycastle. “Planning approval has been granted for the Shared Campus, which will utilise the current sites of both Ballycastle High School and Cross and Passion College. Detailed plans are currently being compiled which will enable both schools to retain their own ethos, identity and governance arrangements, while sharing a significant number of classes for GCSE, A Level and equivalent qualifications. Each school will also retain individual core facilities and share elements of the new facilities in a partnership which will be sustainable and a model of good practice. We also expect that the new Shared Campus will bring wider community benefits with greater public use of the new facilities,” he said.
Dr Kirkpatrick’s visit ended with a question and answer session involving pupils from both schools. “As a Church we recognise the value of children and young people encountering differing views, opinions and cultures during their educational experience, and we want our children to learn together. Shared Education provides the opportunity to do so, delivering educational benefits as well as building good relations between pupils and staff.
“There are 700 schools across Northern Ireland involved in Shared Education, according to the Education Authority. This innovative development, which we support, has further enriched the experience of children and young people,” he said.
“Mr Williamson was very clear in his presentation that both schools recognise the importance of maintaining their individual ethos and identity. This special partnership allows the schools to do this, whilst at the same time, ensuring that all pupils benefit from a full curricular choice and additional extra-curricular opportunities. It was clear to me that Shared Education in Ballycastle is valued by staff and students alike and has left a very positive impression.”
Dr Kirkpatrick said that local schools are often at the heart of local communities and had been through much, especially in relation to the pandemic and its aftermath. “Presbytery Tours are important opportunities to express our thanks to all those who contribute to community life, especially schools, especially after such testing times. At both primary schools I found the same commitment to learning and welfare of the children as I did at Ballycastle High. As my predecessors have done, alongside our support for Shared Education, I would like to affirm our Church’s commitment to controlled schools and encourage their non-denominational Christian ethos, which enables children and young people to flourish.”
Images: (1) Ballycastle High School Principal, Mr Ian Williamson and members of the Senior Leadership Teams from the High School and its Shared Education partner, Cross and Passion College (2&3) Ballycastle Hig school shield and the school shield of the Cross and Passion College with (4) Dr Ian McNie (left) and the Moderator (centre) with Mr Williamson and students from both schools.