Money for shared school campus drive to be reallocated

Work is underway at the Strule campus in Omagh
Work is underway at the Strule campus in Omagh Work is underway at the Strule campus in Omagh

AN ambitious plan to build 10 shared education campuses across the north looks in jeopardy after losing a large chunk of earmarked funding.

The deal to resolve the Stormont crisis will see cash due to be pumped into schemes involving schools from different communities used to support shared housing.

Little progress has been made since the campuses idea was first announced two years ago - just three projects have been approved.

It was expected that further schemes would be given the green light in the autumn, but schools who bid for funding are still waiting to be told yes or no.

Experts have already labelled the exercise as "patently absurd" saying the only things some children will share are toilets and playgrounds.

In the Stormont House Agreement, the British government said it would provide support of up to £500 million over 10 years of new capital funding to support shared and integrated education.

Now, under the A Fresh Start deal, its position has changed and it has instead said "capital funding for shared and integrated education can be used to support shared housing projects".

The first call for expressions of interest in the campus programme ran from January to March 2014.

A total of 16 projects involving more than 50 schools were competing for funding but John O'Dowd approved just three. This included a plan for separate Catholic and state schools in Moy to share a single new building but retain separate uniforms, teachers and governance.

A proposed massive shared education campus in Armagh city, which would cost about £100 million, was among those rejected.

A second call for expressions of interest closed in January 2015 and the Department of Education said "an announcement on the next round of shared education campuses is expected in the Autumn 2015". There has been no further word to date.

The scheme has attracted its critics. In March this year, an influential government adviser hit out at Stormont's promotion of shared schooling, saying some schemes were "patently absurd". Sir Bob Salisbury said shared education may be fashionable now, but there would be little long-term impact.

The Strule project in Omagh, formerly known as Lisanelly, operates outside the shared campus initiative. It will bring six schools together and work on it is underway.

INTO northern secretary Gerry Murphy last night said there was too much riding on the shared campus initiative for it not to happen.

"We are very much supportive of the idea of shared education and we would like the money allocated to it, to be spent on it," he said.

"We are hoping that the projects in the pipeline will be approved quickly and the momentum that appears to be lost will be regained."