Northern Ireland

Primary school closure and merger plans published

Child putting letters on board
Image caption The viability of all of Northern Ireland's 846 primary schools was examined in depth last year

Scores of schools in Northern Ireland are facing closure after the publication of plans for primary education.

The plans include proposals for some joint Catholic and state schools.

Each of the five education boards has published a plan for its own area and they are available to view on the Department of Education's website.

All the proposals depend on the outcome of a public consultation and will require the minister's final approval.

Falling enrolments

The viability of all of Northern Ireland's 846 primary schools was examined in depth last year, after Education Minister John O'Dowd ordered a major review of the sector.

Some of the schools identified are at risk of closure because they have too few pupils, have overspent, or are considered to provide poor education.

In the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) area, Ballysillan PS and Ballygolan PS are both earmarked for closure.

The BELB primary schools plan has also proposed many more amalgamations.

In the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) area; St James' PS, Drumatee, St John's PS, Eglish and St Michael's PS, Clady are to close.

Three more schools: Crievagh PS, Clintyclay PS and Clontifleece PS, have been earmarked for potential closure under the SELB primary schools plans.

In the Western Education and Library Board (WELB) area, four schools have been earmarked for closure: St Eugene's PS Lisnaskea, Bridgehill PS, Envagh PS and St Francis of Assisi PS.

Amalgamations

As part of the WELB primary schools plan, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) is to "progress a consultation on the future" of a further four schools.

They are: Gortnagarn PS, St Brigid's PS, Mountfield, St Eugene's PS, Tycur and St Macartan's PS, Dromore.

In the North Eastern Educational and Library Board (NEELB) area, three controlled primary schools have been approved for closure: Drumard in Magherafelt, Dalriada prep school in Ballymoney and Cullycapple PS in Coleraine.

Under the NEELB primary school plans, the amalgamation of two Catholic schools in Ballymena has been approved: Glenravel PS and St Mary's, Cargan.

Three controlled schools in Larne - Ballycarry PS, Kilcoan PS and Mullaghdubh PS could link up on a new site.

There is also a proposal to amalgamate another 20 schools in the NEELB area.

In the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) area, the CCMS is to consult on the potential closure of St Patrick's PS in Burrenreagh and there is a proposal to amalgamate St Luke's and St Mark's primaries in the Lisburn area.

The SEELB primary schools plan also outlines a proposal to "decrease admission and an enrolment figures" at two other schools in Lisburn. The Good Shepard PS and St Keiran's PS currently have 511 and 290 unfilled pupil places respectively.

More sharing

Alongside the closure plans are proposals to increase the capacity of successful schools that will take in the pupils from smaller schools.

In some areas, there are plans to link up schools from different educational sectors, such as in Moy, County Tyrone and in Belleek, County Fermanagh.

The integrated education movement has welcomed the opportunity for more sharing across primary schools.

The CCMS said the exercise showed that the vast majority of its schools were fully viable.

The education minister said a dedicated website had been set up on which the public could leave comments on the proposals.

A consultation on this phase of the plans will continue until the end of June.

'Demoralising'

Peter Wilson has been principal of Drummard PS for 24 years. It is due to close this summer.

He told BBC Radio Ulster that his primary had seen an "acute decline in our enrolment" over the last 10 years.

However, Mr Wilson said children were very adaptable and would settle in a new school.

"Probably parents do not need to worry too much. For staff, we are going through a very demoralising few months. It is a whole year's process to bring a school to a close," the principal added.

Sir Robert Salisbury, who has carried out two reports on educational provision in Northern Ireland, said this was just the start of a long process for schools.

'Painful'

He told BBC Radio Ulster: "It seems to me that we have too many small schools and many of them are just not doing the business for the young people of Northern Ireland.

"It is painful for a school to close. Nobody likes or wants it. But in the long term, strategically, it is a good thing," he added.

"Talking to parents who have gone through the experience, they have come out at the other end into a better educational world."

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