Lisanelly Stakeholder Group

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 2nd March 2015.

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Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 2nd March 2015

5. Mr McElduff asked the Minister of Education for an update on the work of the Lisanelly education campus stakeholder group. (AQO 7695/11-15)

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chomhalta as an cheist. The Lisanelly shared education campus (LSEC) community stakeholder group held its inaugural meeting in December 2014 and is due to meet again in the near future. The group includes representation from the district council, community organisations and statutory bodies. Its main focus is to contribute to the achievement of the vision and objectives of the LSEC programme through a process of ongoing two-way engagement that allows for consideration of issues that may impact on the local community. The group will achieve this by exploring how opportunities and benefits for the Omagh area can be maximised in economic, social and community regeneration objectives.

Following the group’s first meeting, reflecting the areas discussed and ideas generated, my Department, in conjunction with other Departments and relevant organisations, is examining the provision of additional community services and facilities that may be provided on the site. Progress will be communicated to the group at its next meeting.

As part of a wider communication strategy, work has also commenced to develop an overarching brand and vision for the campus. My Department has written to the community stakeholder group asking for its involvement in that exercise. Members of the group will be consulted to ensure that the views of the local community, young people and other key stakeholders on the development of the site and brand are captured.

I would also note that, at the request of the group, Omagh Youth Council has nominated two of its members to sit on the group. This will help to ensure the views of young people and potential LSEC pupils are captured and taken account of.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Can I thank the Minister for his answer and his pioneering work in leading this iconic Lisanelly education campus. Can the Minister indicate the key milestones that are up ahead for the project, for this calendar year and for future calendar years? Are we on course for the 2020 opening — is it? — of the schools that will be on the site? What are the key milestones up ahead?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

The key milestone up ahead is the starting of Arvalee special needs school, and that is on track. We are on track to have schools on site towards 2020. There has been significant progress made over the last year and a half in moving the project forward.

It is the biggest capital project that the Executive are involved in. It is a massive investment in shared education and in the Omagh area. I know that, at times, progress has been frustrating for the local community, but we are now back on track and are ensuring that things are moving forward.

Arvalee School is expected to open in September 2016. A contract for site-wide demolition was recently awarded, and work has commenced on the site. Planning of future phases of development is ongoing in close consultation with the relevant schools and schools authority. It is expected that construction of the five post-primary schools will commence in 2017, with the campus opening in September 2020. We are moving ahead, and, after long years of visioning, talking and planning the project, physical work is taking place on the site, and employment is being generated in the community. Schools in the Omagh area are at the very heart of planning the site. As I said in my original answer, many aspects of the community are involved in it.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP 3:00 pm, 2nd March 2015

Minister, progress has been slow and very frustrating. You said that it would be open by 2020: is that subject to funding, or will it take place on the ground in 2020?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Unfortunately, everything in this life is subject to funding. It is part of our forward planning, and, when we sit down to talk about capital for future years, the Lisanelly site is always front and centre because it is a Programme for Government commitment. There have been delays in the past, but we are determined to deliver it on time. Arvalee School is expected to open in September 2016, and work will commence on that very shortly. People will then have the confidence that the site is for real, that the schools are moving on to it, and that the Executive will deliver on their Programme for Government target.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

What level and type of contact does the Minister hope for between pupils at shared education of that kind? How will he know if it has been achieved?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I wish for maximum sharing on the site. The local schools are involved in discussions on how and when to use the facilities. It is about how schools use them together and how the young people on the site create a common identity but with schools with a different ethos on the site. There should be a common identity among pupils attending the Lisanelly education campus and being proud of that corporate identity.

How will we know that it has worked? I think that the commitment of the local schools and stakeholders in Omagh will make it work. I have no doubt that, over many years, there will be much scrutiny and many case studies of the Lisanelly site. At times, there will be a steep learning process for some, but what encourages me, as Minister, is that people are willing to learn and to challenge one another and themselves about the shared education site at Omagh. It is a pathfinder project that offers massive opportunities for the community of Omagh and, indeed, across the North.