Progress on new South Belfast school 'so slow'

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It was "highly regrettable" that progress on a new amalgamated primary school for inner South Belfast was "so slow", a DUP MLA said on 7 May 2013.

South Belfast assembly member Jimmy Spratt said he was calling on Education Minister John O'Dowd to bring forward plans urgently for a new school on a proposed site on the grounds of the City Hospital.

On 13 December 2011 Mr O'Dowd said proposals to bring Blythefield, Donegall Road and Fane Street primary schools together in one building were at the early stages and had to be put in context with the length of time that schools could wait for new buildings.

The Alliance Party's Trevor Lunn explained that these three schools were close together, were all more than 100 years old and were "not fit for purpose".

"There are 450 pupils being taught in sub-standard conditions with a high percentage of special needs," he said.

Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard said: "If a new primary school is what local people and the education authorities feel is the right way forward then I'm sure the area planning process may be able to facilitate such a proposal".

Mr Hazzard said, although he agreed with much of what Mr Spratt said, he disagreed with the motion's call for the education minister to address underachievement in Protestant working class areas,

He said he did acknowledge there were two wards in inner South Belfast which were in the top 10% of Northern Ireland's deprived areas, where child poverty was treble the average and education attainment was "nowhere near the level it should be".

Mr Spratt had earlier referred to evidence presented to the Education Committee by Queen's University Professor Pete Shirlow when members were told that twice as many children on free school meals in Catholic secondary schools were likely to go to university than those in Protestant schools.

He said his motion was not designed to under-estimate other deprived areas of Northern Ireland and therefore he would be supporting the Sinn Fein amendment recognising educational underachievement in all working class communities.

The debate continued after Question Time.

The second part of the debate can be viewed here.

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