Building stronger links between schools and the communities they serve can aid social inclusion and have a positive impact on health and educational outcomes.
That was the message from Education Minister John O’Dowd and Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín as they jointly launched guidance designed to encourage more schools to open up their facilities for use by the wider community. The Department of Education’s ‘Community Use of School Premises: A Guidance Toolkit for Schools’ and Sport Northern Ireland’s ‘Your School, Your Club’ publication were launched during a visit to St Louise’s Comprehensive College in Belfast.
Minister O’Dowd said: “As Education Minister, my objective is to raise standards in education and ensure that every child can fulfil their potential. Community, parental and family involvement in schools is well recognised for the positive impact it can have on educational outcomes.
“Schools opening their gates and facilities can lead to improved relationships with the local community thus creating a sense of local ownership. From that sense of ownership, the school is seen as a hub within the community offering lifelong access for learning and participation in its widest sense.
“Many schools have a long history of engaging with their community and making facilities available to others. It is pleasing to see the level of engagement of schools with their communities but there is further scope for improvement and I hope that this guidance will encourage others to do so.”
Minister Ní Chuilín said: “As Minister for Sport, I am keen to see school facilities opened up to the wider community. I strongly believe that by making facilities more accessible, schools can help to increase sporting participation in the community. This, in turn, will promote health and fitness by encouraging people to get active.
“Opening the doors outside of school hours can provide a wealth of benefits for the wellbeing of our society. These include improving access to sporting provision in areas of deprivation, helping to tackle poverty and social exclusion and providing opportunities to improve mental health.”