We are delighted to have judges from a range of sectors across Northern Ireland. Here you can find out a little more about each of our judges.

Mary Coffey
Mary has represented Belfast Metropolitan College on the Belfast Strategic Partnership’s Lifelong Learning Thematic Group since 2015 and has also been a member of the Belfast Festival of Learning Committee since the inception of the Festival in 2016.

For the past 10 years Mary has worked in Belfast Metropolitan College initially managing the equality function and laterally internal policies. During this time Mary also led on a number of community engagement projects for Belfast Met developing pathways into the college and encouraging collaboration between the College, other public sector
bodies and community groups.

Prior to this Mary worked as the Equality and Compliance Manager in the Probation Board for NI and a variety of roles in Customs and Excise and the NI Court Service. Whilst in this area Mary gained an understanding of the challenges faced by those who encounter the Criminal Justice System and how this experience can impact on their future employment and learning opportunities.
Nora Smith
Nora became Chief Executive of CO3 in March 2014. With over 800 members and operating for over 30 years, CO3 is a mature and strategic organisation, which ensures that CO3
members remain at the centre of its work. CO3 provides much needed support, advice, information and development opportunities for Voluntary & Community, and Social Enterprise leaders in NI.

In her previous role as a Consultant with an IT-based company, Nora worked with international
businesses to implement Human Resource Management systems.

Nora previously worked as the Director of Policy, Operations and Human Resources with Employers For Childcare Charitable Group for four years. As a member of the Senior Management Team, she developed strong links within the private, public, community and voluntary sectors, and with a range of social enterprises
Seamus McGranaghan
Seamus is apractising solicitor and Director in O’Reilly Stewart Solicitors. Seamus qualified as a solicitor in 2003 and specialises in employment and education law. Seamus advises the Board of Governors of a number of voluntary grammar and secondary schools in Northern Ireland on all aspects of education law and is legal advisor to the Associations of School and College Leaders Northern Ireland.
Lowry Grant
Lowry is the Director of PKF-FPM a client-focused chartered accountancy and business consultancy practice with offices in Newry, Belfast, Dungannon, Mallusk and Balbriggan,
Dublin North. He has been actively involved in the voluntary and community sector for 30 years. He is Chairman and founding member of ‘Court Credit Union Ltd’, a community based, voluntary organisation aiming to relieve poverty in the community by encouraging saving and prosperity. Lowry is an active supporter of the not for profit sector and was recently awarded a BEM in the Queen’s new years honours list.
Dale Heaney
Dale currently leads the Tackling Educational Disadvantage team within the Department of Education. This team was established in May 2017 to help tackle educational underachievement as a result of socio-economic disadvantage. His role includes development and support of all policies designed to deliver improved outcomes in this area including Pupil
Attendance, Targeting Social Need, the Extended Schools Programme , Full Service Programmes, West Belfast Community Project, Sharing the Learning Programme, North Belfast Primary Principals Support Programme, Period Poverty and Homelessness. His career spans 5 government departments and 35+ years in the public sector.

John D'Arcy
John D’Arcy has been The Open University’s National Director for Ireland since 2010, working in its Belfast and Dublin offices as well as being a member of the University’s Council, Senate, Vice Chancellor’s Executive and Senior Team at Milton Keynes. Prior to joining The Open University, John was Chief Executive of the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges; Director of BDO Stoy Hayward Management Consultants; Principal Officer for Research and Statistics, Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment; and Research Fellow with the Northern Ireland Council for Educational Research.


Aside of his main work, John has led a number of major initiatives in a range of sectors in Northern Ireland. He is a trustee of The Lightbody Foundation; he was founding Chair of the Oh Yeah Music Centre and is a former Chair of Enterprise Northern Ireland and Audiences Northern Ireland. He is currently a Board member of the Open College Network in Northern Ireland and AONTAS, Ireland’s Lifelong Learning Organisation. John has also been a Board member of Sport Northern Ireland and the BBC’s Broadcasting Council for Northern Ireland. John has a keen interest in educational technology and was The Open University’s lead consultant on its ‘Languages of Ulster’ television programme for BBC Northern Ireland. He is also a founder of the University’s recently launched digital archive ‘Time To Think: Open University journeys in British and Irish prisons during the years of conflict 1972-2000



Lawrence Duffy

Lawrence is Managing Director of Duffy Rafferty Communications.  He is a highly experienced public relations consultant, having worked for over 30 years in the Northern Ireland PR industry and manages major client portfolios both in Ireland and the UK.   ​


Rebecca Cope

Rebecca currently heads the Vocational Education Policy Team within the Department for the Economy. The Branch is responsible for providing a Northern Ireland policy and operational response to changes taking place across the UK vocational landscape. Her role includes working with stakeholders to ensure that the vocational offer in Northern Ireland provides high quality pathways and programmes that help citizens to excel in their chosen careers and employers to have access to the necessary skills to prosper in the diverse Northern Ireland Economy. Her career spans 14+ years in the public sector across three government departments.