SMART SCHOOLS

New Thinking for Rural Schools (Mid Ulster Pilot)

SMART Schools is an innovative pilot programme designed to facilitate ‘new thinking’ about the use of school assets and building community connections within and across the Mid Ulster Council District.

It is a project supported by the European Union PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) and match-funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland and The Executive Office in Northern Ireland.

About

As a pilot, the programme targets up to 9 rural primary schools, geographically dispersed across the District and operating within the Controlled, Maintained and Irish Medium sectors.

The programme recognises that the large majority of schools in rural areas are small. Population size and settlement patterns make this so. It also recognises that the large majority of rural schools operate within single identity areas and that distance (and time associated with travel) can be an added barrier to sustained cross community contact.

SMART Schools seek to adopt new ‘smarter’ approaches which are specifically tailored to rural circumstances, which tap local community energies, knowledge, digital technologies and innovations to help shape, deliver and support rural schools, build sustained relationships and maximise the use of school buildings.

The programme is targeted specifically at the school governance structures. It will engage with Board of Governors, Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) (or similar groups), Principals and staff. This makes it different from other Shared Education initiatives where the focus is primarily on opportunities to engage in curriculum activities on a shared basis.

Activities

The Programme will consist of 34 contact hours over a 6-month period between January 2020 and June 2020. Each session is targeted at Board of Governors, PTAs, the Principal and staff.

SMART Schools offers a focused programme of development support – cluster events, networking, sharing practice, training, building relationships and strategic planning. with the aims of:

  • Strengthening local leadership and capacity working with local Boards of Governors, PTAs (or similar structures), Principals and staff enabling exchange on innovative ways of creating more sustainable and accessible rural schools
  • Building Positive Relationships connecting and engaging with the wider community and positioning rural schools at the heart of the community
  • Developing Sustainable Community Engagement Solutions future strategy and action planning models

As a pilot it is hoped that the programme can provide the evidence base to secure future project funding. A project strand may provide grant and implementation support for capital works to support wider community usage and position rural schools at the heart of the community.

Progress To Date

8 schools have been recruited onto the Programme and introductory meetings with each school have been completed.  Unfortunately, COVID-19 has impacted on delivery with face to face events suspended at this time.  However , we continue to deliver a series of information and activity sessions online.

We are currently delivering under the themes of Mindfulness, Healthy Eating, Fundraising, Online Safety. Further areas to be identified.

The timescale for delivery has been extended to June 2021, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions.

For further information – email joyce@ruralaction.co