Award-winning school is the heartbeat of Ballysally

AFTER working in the area for more than 13 years, the principal of Ballysally Primary School has spoken of his pride and delight at being associated with the housing estate.

Geoff Dunn, who heads up the award-winning school, told The Times both he and his staff shared “an immense sense of pride” at working in “an area with great people and a real feeling of developing community spirit.”

However, despite a brief appearance in the programme to promote charity work, Mr. Dunn is worried that the remaining seven programmes yet to be aired could undo a lot of the hard work done by the school and community leaders.

“At the outset I have to say it was actually a bit of a relief because we didn’t know how they were going to portray us and the trailer made it look quite salacious. It turned out it wasn’t that bad but still there is an uneasiness about what is coming,” he said.

“The programme’s producers refused to grant us any editorial control and that didn’t exactly instil confidence in their ability to reflect the the true nature of the estate and good work that is going on throughout it.”

Mr. Dunn, whose school was the first in the country to be awarded the Marjory Boxall quality mark in 2007, revealed Ballysally was just about to announce their success in receiving the award for a second time when all eyes turned to the TV programme.

“No other school in Northern Ireland has received accreditation twice,” he said. “We are a nurturing school and seek to care for the academic, physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs of all of our children.”

Something which Stormont Minister Nelson McCausland recognised when he visited Ballysally last summer. He was so impressed with the school’s caring attitude and involvement with the local community that he sat down and recorded a personal thank you video - filmed from his office at Stormont!

It was shortly after that one parent wrote to the school describing her visit. “It was like Ballysally had given us a great big hug as a family,” she said.

Recognition of the school’s work as an inclusive and community school is something which Geoff Dunn would like to see in future editions of The Estate.

“About 18 months ago we started an innovative community nurturing programme which involves Surestart, Ballysally Nursery, Focus on Family and the Ballysally Presbyterian Church.

“This estate is a hive of activity and we are part of that. The school is open to 8 o’clock most evenings holding free clubs - such as the lads and dads club, the mums and daughters club, Zomba fitness club, ICT for parents and parent/child cookery sessions.

“It is a soft way of raising educational standards and shows how closely knit all sections of the community are in improving living conditions, education standards and lifestyles in the estate,” he concluded.

INTERVIEW: JEFF WHYTE