Please note updates made in respective advice due to Covid-19- see ‘Advice’ section below.
Building stronger links between schools and communities
Community, parental and family involvement in schools brings a range of benefits and, in particular, can have a positive impact on the educational achievement of children and young people. The Department of Education (DE) is therefore committed to building stronger links between schools and the communities they serve.
Current arrangements and legislation
Article 140 of the Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 enables schools to make provision for wider community use of their premises when not otherwise required for education purposes. DE encourages schools to do so through programmes such as extended schools, 'full service' programmes and the school improvement policy, 'Every School a Good School'.
Many schools make their premises available for use by members of the community served by the school, and the arrangements are made and agreed locally.
What facilities are on offer?
School facilities which can be used include
- sport pitches
- school halls or gymnasiums
If I wish to use school premises what should I do?
Decisions relating to the use of school premises are the responsibility of a school's Board of Governors. If you are interested in using school facilities in your area you should contact local schools directly to see what may be possible.
Practical guidance for schools - A Guidance Toolkit
The Department of Education (DE), working alongside a joint Working Group led by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the former Education and Library Boards (ELBs), with input from other key stakeholders, has developed a set of operational guidelines to help schools enhance the community use of their premises. A 'Guidance Toolkit' was launched by the Minister for Education on 13th January 2014 to help schools enhance the community use of school premises.
The 'Guidance Toolkit' has been designed to encourage those schools, especially those who may not currently open their doors, to realise the benefits of making school premises available for use by the local community, provides the necessary advice and assistance to school leaders in dealing with the practical issues involved, and outlines good practice examples of schools which already successfully provide community access to their facilties.
The primary aim is that the guidance document will help schools to overcome any barriers they may feel exist with wider community use thereby enhancing levels of community engagement and enabling all schools to more readily meet the needs of pupils, parents, families and the communtities they serve.
The Toolkit will be updated in due course.
The Toolkit contains 6 Chapters each offering detailed advice, in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), on the key areas set out below
- ownership and control of school premises
- operational management
- health and safety
- child protection
- human resources
A set of templates and forms recommended for use have been developed which schools should find helpful. Each of these forms can be used electronically and downloaded/printed as required. See below for further information.
Schools and third parties wishing to use school premises should be aware that some key documents, namely Appendix 6 (Application for the Private Hire of Premises Form) and Appendix 7 (Terms and Conditions of Hire) have been updated (August 2020) to reflect needs arising as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 situation.
The Education Authority have issued recent communication to schools on this issue which includes relevant contact details.
- Appendix 1 - Assessment of School Premises and Equipment for community use
- Appendix 2 - Sample of Costs (Primary School)
- Appendix 3 - Sample of Costs (Post Primary School)
- Appendix 4 - Schedule of Charges Template
- Appendix 5 - Public Awareness Form
- Appendix 6 - Application for the Private Hire of Premises Form
- Appendix 7 - Terms and Conditions of Hire
- Appendix 8 - List of Useful Contacts
Schools should refer to the current versions of these forms which can be accessed here: Appendices
Note that revised versions of Appendix 6 & 7 in Irish are being progressed and will follow shortly.
Schools may also wish to refer to the range of case studies provided within the Toolkit which highlight a selection of schools demonstrating effective pratice with regard to opening their doors to the wider community.
DE is aware that the guidance may not provide answers to all the questions that schools may have regarding community access to school facilities; therefore it may be necessary for schools to seek further clarification and advice from their governing body or other relevant body/authority as appropriate (see Appendix 8).
Below you can find more information on the extended schools or full service programmes.