AN alternative proposal to the potential amalgamation of four schools in South and East Fermanagh could see each school sharing administrative staff, specialist facilities and teachers, if accepted.
St Aidan's Community Action Group and the St Aidan's Board of Governors officially launched their proposal for a Federated Post Primary Education model for the area at a meeting in the school in Derrylin on Thursday night.
The confederation includes St Comhghall's College, Lisnaskea, St Eugene's College, Rosslea and Lisnaskea High School.
'Rural Education Plus', both parties have submitted, could be a creative model for other rural and disadvantaged communities across the north to follow.
It would enable all four schools to collectively to meet the Entitlement Framework while each would retain their individual ethos and identity. And, if implemented, would be a major step forward in shared education between the Controlled and Maintained sectors.
It means that not only would the school remain in situ as a centre for 11-16 educational provision in the long-term, but would also ensure that pupils are put first, incorporate Shared Education, pooling of resources, teacher development and Co-Ed options as well as take into consideration economies of scale, pastoral care and the sustainable schools network.
It would also be community based, they say.
A large turn out to the public meeting heard that the proposal was being taken seriously and was being assessed on an equal basis with other proposals for the area by the CCMS and WELB as part of their Strategic Review of the sector.
Under the proposal there are possibilities that teachers may work in more than one school across the four sites, specialist facilities could be used by all schools and where appropriate and agreed, arrangements could be made to exchange staff and pupils.
It would also allow each school to be accountable for its own education sector and may retain its own principal and Board of Governors, the Action Group said.
Politicians from across the spectrum were in attendance at the meeting, all of whom signed a declaration of support for the proposal along with the Bishop of Kilmore, Dr Leo O'Reilly.
He told the audience the model proposed as a 'win-win' for South and East Fermanagh.
"It is vital that a sustainable and vibrant post primary facility is retained here in Derrylin. I thank the Action Group for their work in developing this proposal, in lobbying for it, in putting it so forcefully and I hope that your efforts will bear much fruit." Vice-Chairman of the Action Group, Brian McTeggart said the proposal was an innovative one.
"We are more convinced than ever that our Rural Education Plus plan will deliver a vastly superior educational outcome for the pupils of this area than any other option out there and it will do it more effectively as well," he said.
The Action Group says the Sustain Schools Police runs contrary to Department of Education Policy in many areas including: the Special Needs and Disability Order 2005; Fermamagh District Council Integrated Village Plans; Community Use of Schools, Every School a Good School policy.
And it says that the potential closure of St Aidan's in favour of an amalgamation would have a major social impact on the local area.
Looking ahead, the group insists the campaign to save St Aidan's from closure must go on with further discussions and meetings with the other schools.
With the deadline for responses to the Strategic Area Plan consultation only a week away now (October 26), Maria Nugent-Murphy, Action Group spokesperson said it was important to pool support.
"It is vital everyone in the community responds, sending a strong message of support for retention of St Aidan's and the alternative model, Rural Education Plus," she said.