Enrolment not sole factor in primary school shake-up

EDUCATION Minister John O’Dowd has reassured parents that the plan to reorganise primary schools is “definitely not a numbers game based solely on enrolment”.

Mr O’Dowd was responding to comments by the Ulster Farmers’ Union following last week’s publication of the Southern Education and Library Board’s draft primary area plan.

Under the plans, three schools in the area have been highlighted as having pupils under the minimum enrolment threshold of 105. They are Bleary PS, Tullygally and St Mary’s, Derrytrasna.

However, both Bleary and St Mary’s have stressed that come September the balance will be redressed regarding enrolment.

Meanwhile, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has also stressed that it will work closely with the local communities during any consultation process and has given more details on its review process.

The Minister said he firmly believed that all children, including those who live in rural areas, deserve to have access to high quality educational opportunities. “The education and library boards’ proposals on the future of primary provision are designed to adhere to the official Sustainable Schools policy – an approach to school provision that is fully ‘rural-proofed’, having been checked against the Rural Development Council’s rural proofing checklist,” he said.

“I can assure everyone that no decisions have yet been made on any school and that none will be made before everyone has had a chance to put their opinions across. Only at that point, and taking account of all pertinent information, will I decide on the best way forward in the interests of all children.”

Gerry Lundy, chief executive of the CCMS, said the organisation had worked very closely in association with the education and library boards on the development of the draft area plans.

He said, “Our starting point for a review is to consider our schools on a parish basis. Those parish reviews have to be considered in the light of the key Department of Education policies and, in particular, the Sustainable Schools Policy and the Every School a Good School Policy. Our focus is on continuing to provide viable and sustainable, high quality education into the future.

“A key outcome of this process has been confirmation that the vast majority of CCMS schools are fully viable and sustainable into the future. However, some larger, sustainable schools may require change to facilitate a solution for a smaller, unsustainable school in the same area.”

He said that where a school is ‘under challenge’ there were a number of solutions, all of which would involve consultation with the schools and communities affected.

These are amalgamation, expansion, consultation on potential closures, and exploring shared education proposals which come from the local communities themselves.

Mr Lundy added, “As part of the consultation processes the CCMS will work together with the local community in the area and consider alternative solutions to that proposed by CCMS. If it can be demonstrated that the alternative solutions can meet the challenges faced by the school in the current educational policy context, CCMS will seriously consider them. This is synonymous with our vision for high quality education and facilitating the needs of our primary school pupils.”

The draft primary area plans are open for public consultation until the end of June and anyone with an interest can make their views known by visiting www.puttingpupilsfirst.info or contact the Southern Education and Library Board if you do not have access to the web.