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Ulster University, in partnership with Educate Together and the Integrated Education Fund, has today announced a new and innovative project to develop and strengthen the sustainability of primary education provision in border communities.

The project aims to better understand experiences of education and expectations of education provision, and will investigate the challenges and opportunities of living in border areas, particularly in access to education. The project will also explore the preferences of the border communities in terms of the type and location of primary schools, and provide insight into the longer-term views regarding sustainable school provision in each area.

The International Fund for Ireland (IFI), which promotes reconciliation and integration between and within communities across Northern Ireland and in the border areas of Ireland, is supporting the project under its Communities in Partnership Programme (CIPP). £99,551 in funding is to be provided under the Strengthening Civic Engagement in Border Communities project.

Two cross-border rural areas will be selected to engage in a series of broad and in-depth community conversations - facilitated workshops, surveys, discussions and events aimed at bringing communities together from each side of the border.

Having marked its 50th anniversary in 2019, the School of Education at Ulster University has an established independent tradition of public engagement. Its collaborative and innovative approaches to research enable education to be positioned as an agent of change for civic society leading to impact on policy and practice at local, national and international levels.

The funding has been awarded to Ulster University and partners on the basis of the organisations’ shared commitment to community engagement, equality of access to education, and integration as essential to building stronger and more reconciled communities.

Ulster University’s Dr Una O’Connor Bones commented:

Researchers from the School of Education at Ulster University are delighted to be part of the project and look forward to engaging with communities along the border on this important initiative. We hope the project will generate a better understanding of educational provision in these areas. This project builds on successful research undertaken by the Ulster University team (Community Conversations, Future Schools Toolkit) and provides a unique opportunity to extend this work into cross-border settings for the first time.”

Tina Merron, CEO of the Integrated Education Fund said:

“The IEF is delighted to have been awarded this generous grant by the International Fund for Ireland to work in partnership with Ulster University and Educate Together for this cross-border project. It is crucial that parents and local communities are engaged and have their voices heard when it comes to local educational provision. This innovative project provides an exciting opportunity to achieve that objective through a community-led engagement approach.”

Commenting on the award, Dr Emer Nowlan, CEO of Educate Together said:

“Educate Together is delighted to be working in partnership with Ulster University and the Integrated Education Fund on this innovative project. The ‘Community Conversations’ approach demonstrates best practice in participatory community consultation, and it is exciting that this expertise is being brought to border communities north and south of the border for the first time.”

“This project will facilitate high quality, respectful engagement in border areas on questions of sustainability, school provision and community cohesion, giving all stakeholders a voice and informing future developments. We see great potential to extend this approach to other areas of the country where similar conversations are needed.”