After a year of detailed planning and preparation, Abbey Community College opened its doors for the first time on Tuesday, September 1.
The Monkstown-based college, created by the merger of Monkstown Community School and Newtownabbey Community High, will provide all-ability educational opportunities for local young people aged 11 - 19 years.
Children from 15 local primary schools were welcomed into Year 8 this week, while a significant number of students have made the transition from GCSE to post-16 study, giving the college a total enrolment of around 630 pupils.
Principal Maria Quinn said the amalgamation had been “a challenging process”, but thanked governors, staff and Education Authority officials for their “team effort” in ensuring the new college was able to open as planned.
“This is a very exciting time for the Newtownabbey area with the creation of our new school. I would like to acknowledge the huge commitment shown by staff and governors in preparing for this exciting day and thank them most sincerely for their time, energy and enthusiasm,” she said.
Mrs Quinn, who is originally from Omagh, said parents had also been “incredibly supportive” throughout the merger process.
“It is a privilege that parents have put their trust in me and put their trust in my team to take their children on their journey through to GCSE and beyond,” she added.
Mrs Quinn’s vision for Abbey Community College is that all students will be offered a wide variety of academic, vocational and extra-curricular opportunities. And she says that positive partnerships with parents, families and the wider community will play a major role in the ongoing development of the college.
She praised the “major contribution” made by students in the development of the school badge and uniform, adding that staff and pupils have gelled well and there is a “very positive feel and a very positive attitude” within the school.
Highlighting the college’s motto ‘Believe, Achieve, Succeed’, the principal stressed that a strong child-centred approach will be a core feature of the school’s ethos.
“Alongside a culture of respect for self and others, all students will have the opportunity to be challenged and supported to achieve their full potential. The opportunity to have a seven-year educational journey from Year 8 will enable all students to have a personalised learning experience which will make them ready for higher education, further education or employment,” she said.
Confident that the new school has a bright future, the principal continued: “We have brought the best of both schools together to build something new and exciting for the future.
“My hopes and aspirations are that every child who comes through the door of Abbey Community College in Year 8 has the opportunity to stay with us for seven years, to journey through to GCSE and into post-16 and that they’ll leave Abbey Community College ready, either to go to further education, to go to higher education, or to go directly into employment or training. We will work all day every day in order to realise the aspirations of every child so that they can fulfil their potential.”
On a personal note, the former deputy principal of Hazelwood Integrated College is looking forward to the challenge of leading the new school.
“It’s a real privilege to have the opportunity to establish and lead a new school for the future and I feel very honoured to have been appointed. It is a responsibility I take very seriously and I will do my absolute utmost to deliver the best for every child,” Mrs Quinn added.
Looking to the future development of the college, the principal confirmed that work still going on behind the scenes at the Department of Education on proposals for a new school building, but admits it could be some time before the plan comes to fruition.
“For me a school isn’t necessarily about bricks and mortar. It’s about what actually goes on inside the four walls. It’s about the relationships and it’s about opportunities that young people get. Yes it would be fantastic to have a shiny new school, but the children that come through our door will get excellent opportunities regardless of whether they are in a new school or not,” she concluded.
• See this week’s Times (on sale September 2)