Principal's Address, Open Day January 2020

You are very, very welcome to our Open Day in this our twenty sixth year. For our twentieth anniversary, we celebrated with a big do in the Slieve Donard Hotel, honouring the founding students and parents. For our twenty fifth anniversary, we have focused on the achievements of our current students, and the results have been spectacular. Just before Christmas, Gabriel Corrigan was presented with his award for the highest score in Northern Ireland for A level mathematics. Gabriel is now studying maths at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. His success followed Mia Pobloth’s award last year for the joint highest score in Northern Ireland in GCSE German. Repeated polls across NI show that parents overwhelmingly want an Integrated education for their children, but of course they want an Integrated education which is also an excellent education, and our students’ achievements clearly demonstrate that Integrated, all-ability education exemplifies the highest academic standards.


Campaigning and social responsibility are of central importance in bringing Integration to society around us. All of our students are involved, but this year, one of our students, Maya Ballentine, was nominated and received a Diana Award for her campaigning work with our GayStraightAlliance and our Amnesty International group. From all of the Diana Award recipients across the world, Maya was then one of only twenty selected to receive a Diana Legacy Award, presented by Earl Spencer at the Painted Hall in Greenwich, after a special reception with the Duke of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. We are very, very proud of her, and the inspiration she brings to all our campaigning students.  


This has been an outstanding year too for artistic achievement, with our drama students lifting the Carson Award for their devised drama exploring the experience of refugees in Northern Ireland. 


Our Integrated and Religious Studies department produced their film “Religious Voices” showcasing the voices of representatives of the many faiths and commitments represented here. We are delighted that the film has been taken up by other schools and by the Probation Board as a staff training resource. Students have begun work on the next film production, “Refugee Voices”. 


Our English department teamed up with local poet, and erstwhile head of English at Shimna, Gráinne Tobin, to produce a wonderful anthology of students’ poetry “The Dust Between the Stars”. 


Perhaps most spectacular of all was the Shimna Voices project, when Shimna OldScholar and now staff member Ria Maguire wrote a song for our 25th anniversary, with a verse for staff to sing, a verse for parents to sing, a verse for students to sing, and we all came together for a glorious concert at Easter, performing in a 40+ choir along with the choir of All Children’s IPS. We also recorded a CD to commemorate the moment. 


Music and drama continued throughout then year, culminating in our wonderful production of “Scrooge” just before Christmas. 


In the art department, our Ocean Printcess team topped the public vote in the Northern heats of the Junk Kouture competition. The art department also used their Carson Bursary to support beautiful ceramics projects, including the peace poppies you will see in a display case if you visit our Forbes building today. The peace poppies will come with us to our new building to create a wonderful installation in our grounds.


Sport is another aspect of school life in which Integration is to the fore. Our students compete in football, gaelic, rugby, hockey, netball, cross country and track and field, reaching finals in all our team sports, and producing Bronze, Silver and Gold in track and field. Icing on cake came in December, when we were presented with our IFA School Quality Mark. 


Integration is the core of what we do, and we are particularly pleased that we have achieved our Excellence in Integrated Education Award, which will be presented later this month. Better still, we have achieved the Award alongside All Children’s Integrated Primary School. Shimna was of course founded by parents from All Children’s, the first Integrated school in Northern Ireland outside Belfast. 


One feature of our Integration programme is our paired assemblies for Remembrance Day and for St Patrick’s Day, and All Children’s joins us for both. We are particularly pleased that St Mary’s Primary School, Newcastle also joined us this year for Remembrance Day. We have also been delighted to host Newcastle Primary School netball team, and have been very pleased to follow their success. Our PE department also works with Cumran Primary School in Clough, and will be including Annsborough Integrated Primary School and Annalong Primary School in our sports outreach programme later in the year.


We are delighted to welcome you to visit our school today, in the building which was put up on a bank loan by the founding parents. The best vindication that the vision of those parents for an Integrated, academically excellent, all-ability, student centred and parent friendly school has been that work has already begun on our new building. We are particularly pleased that we will be able to continue on this Lawnfield site next door to All Children’s, and that an innovative partnership with Newry, Mourne and Down Council will see us share upgraded sports facilities in Donard Park which will benefit both our students and all our community partners. 


While academic selection continues to be a scar on the experience of so many children, we are very pleased to see that more and more schools in this area are having faith in all our children and moving away from selection. All the awards we are so proud to have won this year, covering academic, sporting, artistic ad campaigning excellence, derive their real significance from the fact that we have achieved them in Integration, together.


I would like to invite you now to tour our school. Look in your folder where you will find a map and a leaflet letting you know what there is to see. Please do head for whatever interests you first. If science is your main interest, turn left and head straight along the main corridor and down to the basement level. If you want to be the first to sample delicious European food, turn right and head upstairs. We have four buildings for you to visit. Make sure you get to all of them. There is the main building where you now are. There is the Forbes Building housing home economics, which you can reach by heading out through the canteen. There is the Sport Hall you will have passed on the way in. Don’t miss the Croí, the small wooden building out the back, which is the hub of our Integrated and Religious Studies department. We want you to make your own way, and you will meet many of our students, staff, parents and governors who will be happy to help you find your way. Don’t miss out on the tea and buns in the canteen. Thank you very much for coming.