The Future Schools Project is running from April 2021 to September 2022 and has been undertaken by the research team at Ulster University with the support of funding partner, the Integrated Education Fund. The Project is funded by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland through their Civic Innovation Programme.
The CFNI Civic Innovation Programme supports “innovative ideas that put people at the centre of decision-making in Northern Ireland.”
The aims of Future Schools Project are to support school communities who wish to explore whether there might be a more sustainable solution to primary school provision in their geographic area and provide guidance on how they could move forward with this in practice. This is a particular problem in Northern Ireland where a divided system of education has led to duplication of provision in some areas.
The Project is therefore designed to enable parents and communities to envision and articulate the kind of primary school provision in their area that would offer greatest viability, sustainability and quality of education for children and young people, and support school leadership in their engagement with the Area Planning process.
“The education system has a diversity of school types, each with its own distinctive ethos and values. However it is not sustainable.”
(New Decade, New Approach Agreement, UK and Irish Governments, January 2020)
“It is essential that schooling reflects the educational needs of the pupils and addresses these needs in the most efficient and effective way possible. This can best be achieved through a network of viable and sustainable schools that are of the right type, the right size, located in the right place at the right time and have a focus on raising standards.”
Department of Education NI, Area Planning Guidance for 2022-2027)
Over the course of the Project regular meetings were held with the relevant education stakeholders involved in Area Planning, data was gathered from parents through Community Conversations and a NI-wide parent survey, a NI-wide survey of school governors was undertaken, and a draft of the Toolkit was shared with a number of Principals, Governors and stakeholder organisations for feedback.
Future Schools Toolkit
The Future Schools Toolkit that was developed as part of this Project aims to:
- provide support and guidance that will enable schools and the communities within which they are located to undertake self-evaluation in relation to school sustainability using the Department of Education NI Sustainable Schools criteria and indicators;
- provide guidance in using the Community Conversation methodology to engage communities in a shared exploration about the way forward; and
- set out the pathways and processes involved in Area Planning in order to support school communities to work with the managing authorities towards a realistic, sustainable solution to enable ongoing school provision in the area.
The Toolkit was officially launched at Stormont on 27 May 2022.
If, at some stage, there are pressures on keeping both schools sustainable we need to work together to keep the best of what we’ve got – we need to make decisions about what we want before we are told what is going to be happening.
(Parent participant in the Future Schools Project)
The toolkit can encourage communities to be proactive in determining their own future. It also provides opportunities for cross sectoral discussions on school provision in particular areas.
(Primary School Principal providing feedback on the Future Schools Toolkit)
It allows everyone to examine options that will benefit communities longer term.
(School Governor providing feedback on the Future Schools Toolkit)
BERA Public Engagement and Impact Award Winners
The UU Future Schools research team won the 2022 British Educational Research Association (BERA) Public Engagement and Impact Team Award for the Future Schools project.
Bates, J., & O'Connor, U. (2018). A Community Conversation Toolkit. UNESCO Centre, Ulster University. Funded by the Integrated Education Fund.
Bates, J., & O'Connor, U. (2021). Community Conversations: deliberative democracy, education provision and divided societies. SN Social Sciences, 1(45).
Roulston, S. & Cook, S. (2021) Isolated together: Proximal pairs of primary schools duplicating provision in Northern Ireland. British Journal of Educational Studies, 69 (2), 155-174.
Roulston, S; O’Connor Bones, U; McAuley, C & Bates, J (2022) Schools for the Future in Rural Communities, Rural Community Network Blog, 6 October 2022.
Bates, J; O’connor Bones, U & Roulston, S (2022) A closer look at the Future Schools Toolkit. Brirish Educational Research Association (BERA) Blog. Blog series: Education Research: Northrern Ireland, 7 October 2022.
- Department of Education, Sustainable Schools
- Department of Education NI, Area Planning
- Education Authority NI, Area Planning
- Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, Planning and Development
- Integrated Education Fund, Future Schools Toolkit