Yesterday, in the West Cork town of Skibbereen, the minister for education turned the sod on a new €9m project that, come May 2016, will see three post-primary schools become one.
There was even a slight touch of Oscar-style intrigue as minister Jan O’Sullivan was handed a golden envelope containing the name of the new school, which will amalgamate the existing Mercy Heights, St Fachtna’s De La Salle, and Rossa College schools.
Those gathered for the announcement were told the winning name had been one of seven proposed and had been voted on twice. “And the name of the new school is...” Ms O’Sullivan said, thankfully not adding an X Factor-style pause: “Skibbereen Community School.”
Maybe not a surprise choice, then, but it seems many aspects of this amalgamation process has gone quite smoothly. Seconds beforehand, she had said: “Whatever the name is going to be, this is going to be one of the best schools in Ireland.”
On that aim, all parties are in agreement. The new school is one of four around the country — the others in counties Clare, Louth and Tipperary — being developed in ‘Bundle 4’ of the public private partnership schools programme.
John Fitzgibbon, education officer with the Cork Education and Training Board, called it “an auspicious day” and said: “There is a perception that they are coming from widely different or differing places — in fact, there is a lot more in common between them than separating them.”
That is a view shared by Stephen Gilbert, principal of Rossa College, who said: “The three are going to blend, they have more in common than they have different.”
David Barry, principal of St Fachtna’s De La Salle, said: “Every school tries to provide a holistic education and that is what the new school will try and do as well.”
The students will come from the same area, the same families, and Anton O’Mahony, Mercy Heights principal, believes, by September 2016, they should all be at the same level in educational terms too.
“That has been ongoing with the last two years, there has been a lot of staff meetings,” he said, squaring off subject choices and course work so that students at all three schools will have the same amount of work done as they make the switch to the new campus.
As the Bishop of Cork and Ross John Buckley, and Marie Griffin of the Catholic Education in Irish Schools Trust stressed in their speeches the role of religion in the history of Mercy Heights and St Fachtna’s, it was easy to question where that fits into the new three-in-one model.
Ms O’Sullivan said: “The coming together of schools with different ethos didn’t start with this government. It is not designed in any way to dilute ethos.”
The talk was of new horizons and new opportunities. Up at the site, the sod has already been well and truly turned by a fleet of bulldozers. The minister plonked a fuchsia shrub into the ground and took the shiny new spade to pose for the photo opportunity.
The work is well underway, three does go into one. Let’s see how the maths works out when it comes to designing the new uniform.