‘MBE award is for the whole school’

MBE recipient Dr Peter Cunningham has said the award is for everyone involved with Ceara School.

The Ceara Principal was awarded an MBE for services to Education in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

He told the ‘MAIL’: “Personally I’m delighted. I would have loved it if my mother and father, Rosina and Gerry, had been alive to see it, but that wasn’t to be.

“I see it as more of a reflection on the school than its principal. There’s principals who work as hard as I do. This is about the people at the school, the mums and dads and families, the community who support the school.

“The reality is you don’t get there by yourself. It comes from hard work, determination, blood, sweat and tears from everyone at the school.

“My job has been made infinitely easier by the support we have had from the community here.”

He added: “Special education was for many years on the outside of education. We were there but weren’t really part of it. Many, many good people have brought special education into the headlights.

“This award is not the answer to all our problems. Hard times are ahead for schools. What I will say is, if having an MBE makes it easier to put forward my argument on behalf of my school, I’ll be using it.”

Peter and his wife Patricia have been married for 30 years. Together they have two children - Mark (28) who lives in Waringstown and works in Donard Special School, and Kathryn (25) who lives at home and has a temporary position at Ceara. Mark and Mandy have a daughter Jessica who is nine months and heavily doted on by her grandfather.

The 57-year-old principal has been involved with special education for 32 years and is the longest serving special school principal.

For 15 years he was a youth leader at the Gateway Club, a position now held by his daughter Kathryn. Peter then went on to Clounagh for seven years and Drumcree High School for five years. He has been at Ceara for 17 years.

He was also a board member of the SELB for 12 years and is a member of the Special Education Tribunal in Belfast.