Nick Tomlinson (49) is a busy man.
Not only is he a principal who teaches his own class at Groarty Integrated Primary School, but the school is fast approaching its 150th anniversary and preparations are well under way to mark the occasion in style.
It’s all been something of a baptism of fire for Mr Tomlinson, who only became principal in September 2014, but he said he is relishing the challenge.
“It’s great,” he said. “I’m really enjoying the whole small school environment. I’m just really enjoying getting to know the school community, the parents and the children and the staff.
“We have a small school here that’s almost like a country school, but just on the edge of the city. It’s got a different feel to it to what a lot of primary schools would have in Derry. It’s a close-knit community and the parents are so supportive of what we are doing here. The school works because the staff, the parents, the children are working together. To me, education is all about relationships and the primary relation is between the pupils and the teachers and if you get that right that’s when people learn, that’s when feel comfortable to socialise properly with one another.”
Originally from Burnley, Lancashire, Mr Tomlinson moved to the north of Ireland 18 years ago and has been teaching ever since.
After meeting and marrying a Derry woman, most of that time has been spent in the north west.
“I was teaching in Strabane before here. I’m very familiar with the North West by now. I think culturally the north west and the north of England are not hugely different.
“I love the people and I love the countryside round here. I really enjoy Donegal, Enniskillen, I just think it’s a beautiful part of the world.”
Nick said taking over the guardianship of Groarty at a time when the school was entering a landmark year is “kind of like it’s an added challenge”.
“With the 150 year anniversary obviously that’s something for the whole school community,” he said. “It’s such a big event you feel like you are just coming in new to it, but you are very quickly building on relationships and letting people know that I’m going to be fully immersed in all of the activities and all of the events and I am going to be promoting it to the full.
“Plans are progressing very well. We have started preparing for the big day which will be April 1st and on April 1st we will have an open afternoon where we are going to have archival material, photographs, old roll books from years gone by, a little piece of drama by the children, some music by our newly formed school choir, so that people who come for the open day will see the children who are here now celebrating all of the generations in the past.
“We want to get as many people who are connected with the school as possible to come back and see us and get involved.”
This is also Nick’s first time at an Integrated School, but he is a long-time advocate of shared education.
“I’d done work on community relations work while based in Belfast but it’s great to work in an Integrated School because it’s something I’m committed to and believe passionately in,” he said.
“It’s something that I think has to be the way forward.
“We work with children and families here from both sides of the community divide, and you’re talking about people on a day-to-day basis working together socialising together, going to children’s parties together, parents working on committees for the school together.
“It’s about sharing everything that we do, and having an inclusive ethos where everybody is working with the same level of respect for one another regardless of what community background or religious background they are from. There is no substitute for working together on a daily basis. Integrated education is about not having a dominant ethos that says one particular tradition is any better than any other, and also about looking at the variety and diversity of beliefs, cultures within the whole world.”
The demand for integrated education is something Nick sees growing as society here moves further away from the difficulties of the past, and Nick aims to grow the school enrolments at Groarty in the coming years.
“Initially my job here is I want to really raise the profile of this school and attract more families. I think it’s an absolutely brilliant place to educate your children.
“I can envisage the school growing and I’d just like to say with the great ethos of the school, anybody that comes in remarks what a lovely environment and what a happy, positive place it is to be.”
When school’s out, as well as enjoying family life and activities in the local countryside, Nick also follows the fortunes of his football team, Burnley F.C. “I still go over once or twice a year to try and get to a match,” he said. “I’ve still got family over there. I do go to the Brandywell too and I do enjoy watching Derry. I was down in Dublin for the final there and I would watch quite a lot of the home games.
“I still play now and again five-a-side but I’m coming to the point where it’s getting more painful every week!”
For more on the 150th anniversary celebrations check out the school website: www.groartyips.com.