Northern Ireland

Education Authority plans point towards more school mergers and closures

School Image copyright PA
Image caption No specific proposals around the future of individual schools will be made until early next year

There are set to be an increasing number of school mergers and closures across Northern Ireland, according to Education Authority (EA) plans.

The draft area plan for 2017 to 2020 sets out a strategy for changes to the number and nature of schools.

Education Minister, Peter Weir, said that a significant number were failing to deliver the best for their pupils.

However, no specific proposals for the future of individual schools will be made until early 2017.

The draft plan provides a framework for deciding which schools are unsustainable.

The document also reveals that almost half of post-primary schools and 40% of primary schools are expected to have budget deficits by 2018-19.

The financial position of a school is one of six ways in which it is decided if a school is sustainable or not.

The others are quality of educational experience, enrolment trends, strong leadership, accessibility and strong links with the community.

Currently, over a third (36%) of primary schools have fewer than 105 pupils, while almost half of post-primary schools have fewer than 500 pupils.

Those are the optimal numbers of pupils recommended in the Department of Education's sustainable schools policy.

Image caption Education Minister Peter Weir told the assembly that the "current status quo is not an option"

Speaking in the assembly, Mr Weir said: "We have too many small primary schools with more than two year groups in a single class.

"There are too many schools with too few pupils to generate sufficient funds to deliver the curriculum to an acceptable level.

"It is a real issue particularly in schools with very small sixth forms," he added.

"We have schools that are too small to adequately provide for their pupils and ensure they have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

"The current status quo is not an option."

Population changes

The draft area plan states that the educational needs of pupils must be met "in the most efficient and effective way possible".

"This can only be achieved through a network of viable and sustainable schools that are of the right type, the right size, located in the right place and have a focus on raising standards."

The plan also outlines projected population changes across the 11 council areas in Northern Ireland.

For instance, the number of children under 15 years of age in the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon council area is set to increase 10% by 2024, the highest increase in Northern Ireland.

By contrast, the Ards and North Down council area is projected to have a 2.4% decrease of young people under 15 by 2024.

While plans have been published by the EA, they have been drawn up jointly with the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and other education bodies.

They are now out for public consultation until December.

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