The €4.2 million Sharing from the Start project, delivered by Early Years, has now seen more than 10,000 children, their families and educators taking part. The recent celebration event in Omagh highlighted the benefits of participating in shared education activities.
(L-R) Lauri McCusker Director of Fermanagh Trust, Paul Sheridan Director of Corporate Services Special EU Programmes Body, Denise McCormilla CEO National Childhood Network, Pauline Walmsley CEO Early Years – the organisation for young children, Paul Brush Director of Early Years Children and Youth Department of Education NI and Ian McKenna Department of Education RoI with Daisy Maguire and Meghan Walker from the Omagh Sharing From The Start partnership
The Sharing from the Start project was supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). It involved early years settings throughout Northern Ireland and the Southern Border counties forming cross-community and cross-border partnerships. The children involved took part in joint curricular classes, improving educational outcomes and promoting good relations.
At the celebration event participants showcased how the programme has brought positive attitudinal and behavioural change among children, parents, teachers, and the wider community. Achieved through the implementation of purposeful, direct and sustained curriculum-based contact between children of predominantly different religious backgrounds and different ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds.
Over the course of the five-year programme, over 10,000 children participated with over 200 practitioners building the capacity to facilitate shared education. Parents and carers were able to participate in shared education workshops and activities leading to improved relationships with other parents/carers across community divisions.
Sharing from the Start was administered by Early Years working in collaboration with the National Childhood Network and the Fermanagh Trust. Together these three organisations have a strong track record of working for the benefit of children and good relations development. Match-funding for the project was provided by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Department of Education in Ireland.
Speaking during the Closure Celebration Event Pauline Walmsley Chief Executive Officer of Early Years – the organisation for young children said: “Sharing from the Start clearly demonstrates the vital role that the early years in a child’s educational journey plays in delivering shared education. It represents a uniquely rich period in the child’s development and the parent’s participation in the delivery of educational and reconciliation outcomes. I congratulate the achievements and commend the commitment of parents, communities, practitioners/teachers and that of the Sharing from the Start project staff and our funders in firmly establishing shared education within the community, independent and statutory pre-school settings in both Northern Ireland and the border counties in Ireland.”
Northern Ireland Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said: “The Sharing from the Start project has helped improve educational outcomes and good relations in the early years sector throughout Northern Ireland, and the border counties. The project has supported pre-school partnerships to develop and sustain shared education in their settings and engage pre-school children in shared education activities. Sharing from the Start placed a strong emphasis on curriculum based contact between children and also between teachers from different backgrounds to promote good relations and enhance children’s skills and attitudes to contribute to a cohesive society.”
Irish Minister of Education Norma Foley, said: “How a child learns and develops at the early stage of their life forms strong foundations for their future. That is why the Sharing from the Start Project was so welcome, as it allowed our early years educators and practitioners North and South to work together with a shared focus on our youngest citizens. Early years educators and practitioners are essential to young children’s early experiences, and I’m delighted to see that the benefits of this programme extended to the early years educators and practitioners who have found the programme has strengthened, enhanced and developed their own learning and practice. My congratulations to all those involved in the successful delivery of this enormously worthwhile project.”
Congratulating the project on what it has achieved, Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive of the SEUPB said: “Many of our young people still have very limited opportunities to meet with and learn from someone of a different community or culture. This is a legacy of our shared past and only serves to reinforce misunderstanding, mistrust and division that can prevent us from moving forward as a society. The shared education objective of the EU PEACE IV Programme was designed to help address these issues through the provision of direct and sustained curriculum-based contact between pupils and teachers from all backgrounds. The Sharing from the Start project is an excellent example of this work as it has allowed thousands of pre-school children and their teachers to take part in joint curricular classes that have helped challenge prejudices which, as research shows, can be developed at a very early age. This much needed work continued during the height of the pandemic with innovative forms of online delivery that kept the young people engaged and supported during a very difficult time. I would like to thank everyone involved in the successful delivery of this fantastic project for all of their hard work, dedication and commitment.”