Schools bid for £4million STEM centre

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Seven Newtownabbey schools are among a group bidding to establish a £4million STEM centre of excellence as part of a shared education proposal submitted to the Department of Education.

The group’s expression of interest, lodged as part of the Department of Education’s Shared Education Campuses Programme, could see 17 NEELB and BELB schools join together to establish a ‘North Belfast STEM Centre’ on the Hazelwood Integrated College site.

The proposed centre aims to provide specialist tuition in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with a particular emphasis on emerging areas such as agri-food and renewable and sustainable energy.

Newtownabbey schools backing the project are Edmund Rice College, Glengormley High School, Jordanstown School, Monkstown Community School, Newtownabbey Community High School, Rosstulla School and Belfast High School. Pupils from these schools would be taught together and would share teachers in specialised STEM classes at the Hazelwood campus.

The STEM centre application made to the Department of Education states that the facility will be ‘dedicated to bridging the gap between education and the world of work.’ The state-of-the-art proposal involves renewable energy rooms dedicated to hydro and wind energy; communication, media and ICT suites, food technology laboratories, a high tech lecture theatre and a ‘21st century communications infrastructure.‘

In order to boost pupils’ employment prospects, the facility would also feature a dedicated STEM careers suite and library, STEM careers programme, annual STEM recruitment fair, annual careers convention and work experience and apprenticeship programmes.

Principal of Hazelwood Integrated College, Kathleen Gormley said that the proposed centre would address unemployment issues by bridging the knowledge gap in STEM subjects in Northern Ireland.

She stated: “This campus will provide additional support for STEM subjects such as food technology. The only place where that is available at the moment is Loughrey, and there are no courses in sustainable energy in Northern Ireland. This will be a purpose-built centre which will bring something really special to this area. If you could make North Belfast and the surrounding area of Glengormley and Newtownabbey STEM specialist then it would become a recruiting ground for companies. It would bring a new impetus to the area, like Harland and Wolff did in the past. Employers would come here and be part of the school.”

Ms Gormley says that no local schools will have to close as a result of the STEM centre’s opening, and that the centre could potentially cater for around 8,000 students from Key Stage Four upwards.

She continued: “The centre would have advanced facilities not seen before in Northern Ireland. We have no level two STEM academies, but they exist in Wales and London. The centres contain industrial equipment such as hydro and wind technology rooms. Pupils will then be able to take advantage of all the wind power jobs that are coming up. Many employers are trying to get people who are work ready. Instead of being an unemployment black spot, this could be the place that the workers of the future come from. It will generate income and workers for the economy.”

A decision on the shared education campus proposal is due to be made in June.