Northern Ireland

Enniskillen: Bid to stop Fermanagh schools' amalgamation fails

Portora Royal School is set to close at the end of the current school year
Image caption Portora Royal School is set to close at the end of the current school year

A High Court bid to stop the amalgamation of two Enniskillen grammar schools has failed.

Portora Royal School and Collegiate Grammar School (CGS) are now set to close at the end of the current school year.

A new co-educational school, Enniskillen Royal Grammar School, will then open in September 2016.

Initially, the school will operate on a split site, but there are plans to build a single new school.

It is expected that the new school will be built at the current Portora site, but this has not yet been confirmed.

A year 10 student at Collegiate Grammar School, whose past pupils include the First Minister Arlene Foster, had challenged the decision by the Education Minister John O'Dowd to approve the plans.

The student claimed that no economic appraisal of the proposals had been carried out and that there would be significant transport problems arising from a split site.

However, Mr Justice Colton said that: "in reality the challenge was brought not by the pupil but by the leadership of the CGS as part of their 'determined and ongoing opposition' to the proposal to close their school".

He rejected the challenges to the Department of Education's plans, and refused the application for judicial review.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Colton acknowledged that: "the decision will come as a great disappointment to all of those associated with the CGS", but said the minister's decision was "neither irrational nor unlawful."

Proposals

The principal of Collegiate Grammar School, Elizabeth Armstrong, said they would need time to consider the judgement.

"We are disappointed at the outcome, but our focus will continue to be the young people of County Fermanagh and the surrounding area, whom it is a privilege to serve," she said.

Established in 1618, Portora Royal School counts Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett among past pupils.

Its current principal, Neil Morton, had previously told the court that: "the proposals and campaign against the amalgamation has pitted neighbour against neighbour".

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption John O'Dowd has welcomed the judge's decision

Following the court's decision, he said that he was delighted that the interim board of governors for the new school, "will now be able to continue the very good work that they have already done to establish a new school".

Education Minister, John O'Dowd, also welcomed Mr Justice Colton's decision.

"I believe this decision is the right one for the young people of Enniskillen and I wish all those tasked with taking these plans forward well as they establish the new school," he said.

Enniskillen Royal Grammar School will be a co-educational grammar school with an enrolment of around 900 pupils.

Mr Justice Colton said that all current pupils at Collegiate Grammar and Portora Royal would be accommodated at the new school, and that any reduction in admissions would be gradual.

However, he also said that the split site arrangement should not be permanent, and that it would be "nothing short of a scandal" if a new school was not built.

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