‘Cross border working has really opened people’s eyes’

Practitioners from cross border partnership Cockhill Community Preschool Buncrana Donegal, Stepping Stones Playgroup St Johnston Donegal and Bligh’s Lane Nursery School L’Derry on how they’ve been able to learn from each other.


Three-way partnership Cockhill Community Preschool Buncrana, Stepping Stones Playgroup St Johnston and Bligh’s Lane Nursery School Derry have been working together on the Sharing From The Start programme for the last five years. Located about thirty minutes from each other and crossing the border with two in Co Donegal and one in Derry.

On the cross border aspect, Rosie Devlin from Cockhill Community Preschool said “It’s a very different framework in the North compared to what we in the South are used to. We’ve had so many lovely opportunities to see how each other do things and think about how we do things. It’s been a fabulous learning experience. It has been great for the children to see the diversity of not just different children, but their background and their school and their identity and belonging in Bligh’s Lane and Stepping Stones.”

“We’ve learnt better ways of working from seeing how things are done over the border. It’s more structured learning so we’ve picked up the importance of detail and sharing of templates. There are differences North and South so that’s been an interesting observation for us. As preschool leaders our practise and overall aims are the same but the writing up was challenging and it’s something we’ve got better at thanks to working in partnership and learning from each other. In the South we have a more emergent curriculum, when it comes to backing that up with documentation, we can see the experience and expertise in the North. Blighs Lane have shared that with us and because of that our documentation has become better as well our confidence.”


Bligh’s Lane, Cockhill and Stepping Stones children performing Christmas carols 2018. The leaders are hoping to get back to face to face shared learning this year.


Margaret O’Doherty from Bligh’s Lane Nursery said “In the North we’re very much themed learning, topic related and everything is very prescriptive. What I learnt from the cross border aspect is the South let it be more child led. Of course, our plan is there as a skeleton but being in Sharing From The Start and working together has allowed us to have more child initiated learning. Just let the children lead us down a certain path to work out what’s coming next. It might not necessarily tie in with what we had planned but so long as the learning outcomes are the same and the shared outcomes are the same that’s ok. It’s ok not to have everything set in stone, I learnt that from watching my partners over the border, they allow the children to lead. We’ve all probably learnt that there’s a balance. Feed the children’s learning and energy and where they want to go with it. The three of us have all learnt about that balance together.”

“The one example I always remember is seeing the outdoor area at Stepping Stones. Their children decided where everything was going to go, where to put all the equipment. I thought I really need to learn and take from this. Something so simple but it’s a different level of learning, confidence building and ownership for the children which we were able to pick up. From Cockhill we were able to learn from their outdoor area as well and inspired to develop our own playground from seeing their Mud Kitchen and Mini Beast Hotel which we didn’t have before. It is really valuable when we see each other’s settings and work together. We all get ideas from each other It helps us to reflect on our own setting.”

Kimberley McGavigan from Stepping Stones Preschool added ‘’Visiting Margaret’s setting in Derry was great for the staff to see the different ways of working in a physical environment was a real learning curve for everybody. Visiting the settings, getting ideas and putting them into practice was really positive for me and my staff. We’re lucky we have technology to keep us together, but it would be lovely to get back to visiting each other’s settings because there’s learning all around not only for the children but for us. Cross border working has really opened people’s eyes and we’ve all taken so many positives from each setting.”

On the curriculum focus of the shared sessions Kimberley said “This year we’re thinking of doing the Big Bird Watch which will help Bligh’s Lane as they’re working towards Eco-Schools status. We’ll also do little sessions for Valentine’s Day and events like that throughout the year.”

Margaret added “The Big Bird Watch will be something different for us. We were laughing and joking that it’ll be interesting to see if there’s a difference between the birds in the North and the birds in the South! Looking back on our sessions in previous years, a lot of the curriculum focus was on Language and Personal, Social, Emotional. As well as physical and the arts so we’ve covered a range of lessons.’’

On the benefits of the partnership Kimberley explained “The three of us have each other, beyond even our Sharing From the Start partnership. We know there are other practitioners all experiencing the same challenges. Because we’ve built such a good relationship we can query things and bounce ideas off each other. Years and years ago people might have certain reservations about other communities mixing. Programmes like this and the support for it shows how times have moved on.”

Margaret added “To know there’s someone at the end of the phone is so beneficial. To those thinking about Shared Education, go into it with an open mind and be willing to learn with a view to improving your own setting. You can improve your own way of working for the good of the children ultimately. Remember what it’s all for, it’s for the children and their families and to instill those respectful attitudes in them early on. The adult modelling, respectful behaviour, welcoming our new friends and then when they’re going thanking them. Children will pick up on that. We’ve had 100% support and positivity from the parents. They’ve really welcomed Sharing From The Start and the wider community as well can see that too.”

Rosie concluded “Karen our Senior Early Year’s Specialist has been the glue in keeping us together. So important to have someone there to guide us and help frame exactly what we want to achieve. She’s been essential to our success as a partnership. Peace and reconciliation is a big outcome of Sharing From The Start and we feel as a cross border partnership we help contribute towards that aspect of it. There is a respect of the diversity of backgrounds. When children from Bligh’s Lanes or Stepping Stones come in they are made to feel very welcome, they’re treated exactly the same as our children. Likewise, when we go to visit them there’s no difference made, totally valued and respected. That is a very important early life lesson for the children. It has been a real privilege because this is the first time Shared Education has been happening between preschools in a formal way. Wonderful to work with such great people who are in the same mindset, we all have the same shared value outcomes. We’ve all grown and developed from each other. That wouldn’t have happened without Sharing From The Start.”