Principal honoured to lead three-school merger

Classroom (stock shot)
[Getty Images]

A new secondary school which will merge three existing schools along the north coast of Northern Ireland is expected to be operational by September 2026.

It will be called Causeway Academy, after its interim Board of Governors agreed on the name last week.

The Education Authority (EA) announced the target opening date on Wednesday, along with the appointment of a "principal designate" - Ruth Harkness.

However, the location of the new school is yet to be decided.

The academy will be an amalgamation of Coleraine College, North Coast Integrated College and Dunluce School.

Dunluce School is in Bushmills County Antrim, while the other two are about eight miles away in Coleraine, County Londonderry.

Each of those schools have a few hundred pupils but the new academy will cater for about 1,200 students.

The EA said Causeway Academy will be established in partnership with Ulster University, the first arrangement of its kind in Northern Ireland.

Catering for 11-18 year olds, the new academy will be an integrated post-primary school which does not use academic selection.

However, the project has faced some criticism from parents of students who attend the three schools involved in the amalgamation.

A majority of respondents to a 2022 Education Authority (EA) consultation on the proposed merger were opposed to it.

Travel time concerns

Dunluce School
Dunluce School is in the neighbouring village of Bushmills [BBC]

A number of them complained that the amalgamation of the three schools would reduce parental choice.

Some parents expressed concerns about transport provision because many students would face a longer journey travelling to and from school.

Others worried about the pastoral care of their children, moving from small schools with a few hundred pupils to a much larger academy with about 1,200 students.

But despite that opposition, the plan has continued to advance and Ms Harkness has now been appointed to lead the amalgamation.

It is understood that a number of locations are under consideration, including the sites of all three merging schools, but these are subject to feasibility studies.

Coleraine College
Coleraine College is one of the schools involved in the merger [BBC]

Pupils helped to pick name

Jim McCartney, who chairs Causeway Academy's interim Board of Governors for Causeway Academy, told BBC News NI that he believed the benefits of a "new school, new start" would help opponents to overcome their initial concerns.

He explained the three small schools were "fishing the same pond" for pupils and none of them would be considered sustainable in the long term due to low numbers.

Mr McCartney was particularly pleased at the involvement of the Ulster University in the project, saying this would provide new opportunities for pupils and staff.

It is understood Ulster University will not have a management role in the school, but will offer support, helping to develop educational programmes and placements.

Mr McCartney said the long-term ambition of the project would be a brand new school building close to UU but he accepted that could be some years way.

He added that the naming of Causeway Academy was decided with assistance from students in all three merger schools.

Student councils were asked to put forward a small selection of potential names, and then the interim Board of Governors took the final decision last Thursday.

Mr McCartney added that Causeway Academy was by far the most popular choice among the pupils.

'Shared vision'

Mr McCartney also welcomed the appointment of Ms Harkness, saying she was "committed to creating a nurturing and integrated learning environment which meets the needs of all young people"

Ms Harkness, who is the current principal of Craigavon Senior High School in County Armagh, has worked in secondary schools for about 20 years.

She said she was "honoured to lead this new integrated school in partnership with Ulster University, bringing three schools in the Causeway area together to create a shared vision and collective ambition valued by all in our community".

The principal designate added that she was "committed to providing a safe, inclusive, and academically enriching environment".

"Together, we will create a school where every student feels valued, challenged, and prepared for their exciting futures."