Students and staff at New-Bridge Integrated College in Loughbrickland were delighted to host Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today when he visited the school. The Taoiseach was keen to see how the College’s approach to integration throughout school life had earned it the Evens International Prize for Peace Education – the first school in the UK and Ireland to win this prestigious award. Last November representatives from the school travelled to London to receive the honorary title of ‘Laureate of Peace Education’ for their inclusive practices.
“In this school, we are taught many important values – top amongst them the importance of inclusivity. Here, we get to meet people who may not look like us, who may not come from the same background as us, who may not share the same religion. Here, we get to learn about different cultures, and listen to each other’s stories, and it’s here that we get to embrace our differences and share in our common identity, so we are very proud that Mr Varadkar has visited our school to see this in action”.
Education Training Inspectorate Inspection Report
“The highly inclusive ethos of the school ensures that all pupils have good opportunities to develop the ability to think critically and to recognise and value diversity which prepares them well for life and work. The school gives a high priority to inclusion and integration within the school and shows a strong commitment to the welfare of the pupils and staff”.
Leo Varadkar was welcomed by Principal Anne Anderson; Head Boy Matthew Houston and Head Girl Alanna McCourt; Roisin Marshall, CE of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), Tina Merron CE, Paul Caskey and Richard Lemon, Director of the Integrated Education Fund; along with Founding Chair of New-Bridge Board of Governors Mrs Norah Connolly and Deputy Chair Mr Philip Mehaffey.
The Taoiseach was welcomed to the school by a warm round of applause from students who formed an impressive guard of honour on his arrival.
Ms Anderson said
“It is a great honour that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has chosen to visit New-Bridge Integrated College in person to see our work and to learn more about the ethos of integration. We are very pleased to be able to show him the great work of our staff and students and to demonstrate how an openly diverse society can form a united community. This is a proud day for the New-Bridge Community.”
After touring the school’s facilities, the Taoiseach took the opportunity to speak to pupils who discussed their experiences of diversity and integration at New-Bridge IC.
Speaking as he left the school Leo Varadkar said
“I am very happy to congratulate New-Bridge Integrated College on winning the international Evens Peace Prize. Having met students and staff I can say the honour is well-deserved; this school shows how diversity can be celebrated and nurtured in a context of educational excellence. The confident, considerate and outward-looking attitudes shown by the young people here set a very optimistic tone for my visit to Northern Ireland”[Note for editors: New-Bridge IC was established in 1995 for families in the Newry and Banbridge areas seeking integrated, co-educational all-ability education. The college has grown steadily and now has an enrolment of more than 620 students.
In 2017, New-Bridge IC was awarded the bi-annual Evens Prize for Peace Education for its approach to dealing with “hot topics” and for extending the integrated ethos throughout all aspects of school life. As a result of the Peace Prize, representatives from the college have spoken at international conferences across Europe, including “Civic actors in Conflict IV:
“Face-to-Face (dialogue perspectives in polarized society) in Bratislava, The Conflict Matters Conference in London as well as hosting round table discussions at the UN Convention in Brussels. The profile of New-Bridge Integrated College continues to grow in their promotion of peace education, as the Laureate of the Evens Peace Education Prize, in Northern Ireland and beyond.
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