Prestigious teaching award for Bessbrook Principal

June 15, 2010

by Brónagh Murphy

One of the most prestigious awards granted to members of the teaching profession has been bestowed upon the Principal of a Bessbrook school.

Mr Oliver Mooney, Head of St Paul’s High School in Bessbrook, was honoured at the recent Northern Ireland finals of the Teaching Awards where he received the Principal of the Year award.

The annual event, which was held in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, recognises members of the teaching profession for their outstanding contributions to the educational system in Northern Ireland.

A native of Culloville, Mr Mooney, who has served as Principal at St Paul’s since 2002, received a ‘Plato’ Award and will represent Northern Ireland in the UK Teaching Awards, which will be held in London in October.

The judging panel heaped praise upon Mr Mooney, describing him as ‘a principal of great vision and a champion of comprehensive education’.

The judges also acknowledged his commitment to continuous improvement in all aspects of his professional life, and described him as ‘value-led, people-centred and achievement-oriented’, providing ‘strongly principled educational leadership’ to the Bessbrook school.

The Board of Governors, staff and student body at St Paul’s High School are delighted with the recognition of Mr Mooney’s leadership and extend congratulations to him on this wonderful accolade.

SDLP MLA and former teacher in St. Paul’s, Dominic Bradley, also congratulated Mr Mooney: “I offer my heartiest congratulations to Mr Mooney who has made a tremendous contribution to education in this area as a teacher, education board officer and as a school principal.”

The Principal of the Year award is the latest in a long line of accolades which have been bestowed upon Oliver Mooney since he embarked on his teaching career in the 1970s.

Since he took up the position of Principal in St. Paul’s eight years ago, Oliver Mooney has led the school through a massive refurbishment and extension where he has empowered his staff to create a dynamic team where all stakeholders can contribute significantly. This has led to an open, creative learning environment where each person, pupil and adult has the opportunity to achieve his or her potential.  Oliver Mooney has championed the cause of comprehensive education since experiencing its worth within St Paul’s and has been instrumental in influencing thinking and policy in this area.  He is an inspirational leader who most certainly fits the shoes of Principal of the Year.

outstanding leadership

St Paul’s High School in Bessbrook was established in 1966 to serve a large rural catchment area in south Armagh with the aim of providing its pupils with a Christian education within the Catholic ethos.  It aims to foster a spirit of cheerful co-operation and provide a caring environment which promotes high achievement and self esteem among staff and pupils.

Mr Mooney joined the staff as Principal in 2002 and has provided outstanding leadership with a clear and compelling vision for success. Its current enrolment has reached 1,500. It is a unique secondary school in that it has consistently been oversubscribed since 2003, this is at a time when many schools cannot fill their quota.

Under Mr Mooney’s leadership, St Paul’s High School has been committed to a collaborative school vision of excellence and equity that sets high standards for every pupil, from the most able to those with special educational needs in the Learning Support Centre.  He is able to engage others’ complete commitment to the school’s vision and values by inspiring, challenging, motivating and empowering others to carry the vision forward. He is a person of charisma, who models his vision of inclusivity in his approach to every pupil and adult within the school system.

Mr Mooney is the Principal responsible for leading the school community through a massive refurbishment and extension programme which transformed the school fabric and ensured that the school is now equipped with state of the art facilities embracing all new technologies.   He has shown significant wisdom in making appointments of dynamic and visionary staff who respond positively to the school ethos and develop professionally through original contribution. This discernment has been recognised by the employing authority, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. He is currently an assessor for Principal appointments throughout Northern Ireland.

Great foresight was shown by Mr Mooney in the appointment of a Vice Principal for Quality Assurance; an outstanding visionary worker who has led a detailed whole school improvement package at GCSE, involving staff, pupils and parents.  Monitoring and evaluation with personal target setting for pupils that stretches and increases excellence have been put in place. The consequence has been that individual, team and whole school accountability for pupil learning outcomes has been increased.

He has, from the first day of arrival, embraced the need to celebrate success and achievements of individuals and teams.  His level of pastoral care for staff, when in personal crises has been exceptional; using many strategies to enable the person to return on “full power” to the school organisation.   The embedding of Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance as a whole school initiative is currently a priority for him and his management team.


Oliver Mooney aims for the maximum, never settling for doing “just enough”.   He is involved in primary education and is the Chair of the Board of Governors in his local primary school. He was a member of the panel for STEM in Northern Ireland who, at the outset, awarded contracts to those who became the providers of STEM within the Northern Ireland context. He is fond of the outdoors and enjoys spending time with his family and young grandchildren.  In these, and other ways, he sustains a strong sense of commitment and high personal energy levels.

SDLP MLA, Dominic Bradley, – a former teacher at the school – was one of the first to convey his congratulations to Mr Mooney and St.Paul’s.

“I offer my heartiest congratulations to Mr Mooney who has made a tremendous contribution to education in this area as a teacher, education board officer and as a school principal.  During his tenure to date in St Paul’s he has guided the school into a new era overseeing the transformation of the school not only physically but from the point of view of curriculum as well.

“He is the type of man who would be the first to recognise that his work in St Paul’s was built on solid foundations laid down by previous years and was achieved with the support of a tremendous staff and very willing pupils.

“St Paul’s has achieved many significant milestones during Oliver’s principalship not least among them special status in science.  The school provides a high quality education right across the ability range and is an example of the ethos of continual improvement to which all schools should aspire.

“I wish Oliver, all his staff and pupils, continued success for the future,” he added.