School closures and mergers across the ABC borough could materialise over the next two years following the publication of the latest action plan to scrutinise service provision locally.
The Education Authority on Monday published a third area action plan, an ‘extension’ to previous reports, which now covers the time period from April 2019 to March 2021.
It could see the axe fall on a number of schools across Northern Ireland – or amalgamations – due to “sustainability” issues.
But there is the promise that no action will be taken until after full consultation is carried out.
As well as fresh actions, others from the two previous action plans have carried forward and will still be looked at.
The Armstrong Primary School and Drelincourt Primary School in Armagh are listed together.
The report identified the key issue being that “school places are located as required” and the need to “address school provision where sustainability is an issue”.
The Drelincourt, a Church of Ireland run school, currently has less than 30 pupils and the Armstrong in excess of 500 on the roll books.
The report directs that the managing authorities and Trustees will “consult on options for future provision”. This will take place before October next year.
Meanwhile, at the Christian Brothers’ Primary School in Armagh, there will be consultation by the managing authority to increase admissions and enrolment numbers by May next year.
Issues carried forward from earlier action plans will see “options for future provision” of Foley Primary School, St Michael’s Primary, Clady and St Mary’s Primary, Granemore, by November 2020. This is to “address school provision where sustainability is an issue and ensure school places are located as required”.
The managing authority will also consult on options for future provision of Drumsallen Primary School by January 2020, again citing the need to “address school provision where sustainability is an issue”.
Listed together, there will be consultation too on options for future provision of Derryhale Primary School and Mullavilly Primary by February next year.
At Hardy Memorial Primary in Richhill, Monday’s published documents says the managing authority will consult on a “decrease in admissions and enrolment numbers by June 2019”.
And at Markethill Primary, the authority will consult on an increase in admissions and enrolment numbers by January 2020.
There will be work too to “develop options for integrated education in Lurgan and Craigavon by January 2021”.
Across Mid-Armagh and Banbridge, the report identifies an “over-subscription for Catholic maintained education” in the area and refers to the need to consult on options to “deal with” this by September 2019.
In terms of post-primary education – again carried forward and still ‘live’ from earlier published plans – there will be consultation on options “for future provision at City of Armagh High School and Markethill High School by January 2020”. This is to ensure “school places are located as required”.
The managing authority will also consult on options for Key Stage 4 provision in St John the Baptist College in Portadown by March next year.
Craigavon Senior High School has also been subject to ongoing consultation on options for future provision.
Meanwhile, sustainability is still an issue at Brownlow Integrated College, with the “managing authority to consult on options for future provision” by January 2021.
Across the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area there has been an increase in total primary school enrolments of 389 pupils since 2017, when the first action plan was published.
And in post-primary schools there has been a decrease of 700 available places compared to the corresponding figure in the 2017 annual area profiles.
Across Northern Ireland as a whole, there are 22 schools listed where “sustainability” has now been identified as an issue this time round.
Among these is St Joseph’s Primary School, on the Derrycoutney Road in Caledon. There will be consultation on options for future provision of St Joseph’s Primary by March 2021. It is one of four in the Mid-Ulster Council area, the others being Kilross PS and St Malachy’s PS in Magherafelt, and St Mary’s Primary in Fivemiletown.
Sustainability is also an issue at four primary schools in Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area, according to the latest report.
At Kingsmills Primary School, there will be consultation on “options for future provision” by October next year. The other three – all of which have an options consultation timeframe on March 2020 – are St Joseph’s Primary, Killough, St Mary’s Primary, Saintfield, and St Joseph’s Primary, Downpatrick.
According to the report, the inclusion of an area or a named school “does not mean that there will be a development proposal, or if there is a proposal, that this will be approved automatically”.
It adds: “Each proposal will be considered against robust and verifiable information, with the Minister or the Permanent Secretary in the absence of a Minister being the final decision maker in all cases”.
The report adds: “Overall, there are 53 schools named in the plan and four wider areas identified. All actions that proceed to development proposal stage will be subject to detailed consultation.The proposer and the Education Authority will undertake robust pre-publication consultation with each school’s Board of Governors, staff, parents, trade unions, community and political representatives, as well as other schools likely to be affected by any change and will explore all possible options.”
While there are schools listed where sustainability is now an issue, the report says it contains some schools that are sustainable “as it is these schools that may form part of the solution to sustainability issues in the area”.
EA Interim Director of Education Kim Scott said: “One of the challenges facing our education system is that we still have a number of schools that are too small to adequately provide pupils with access to a broad and balanced curriculum, extensive extracurricular activities, and high-quality pastoral care.
“In many areas of Northern Ireland there are too many school places for the size of the population, while in other areas and sectors, there are not enough places. Area planning seeks solutions to these issues to ensure all pupils have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
“Some areas may have relatively simple solutions such as increasing the enrolment number of a school, while other areas may require amalgamations, closures, change of school management type, or sharing of resources.
“The area planning process brings all education bodies in Northern Ireland around the same table to seek solutions to the often complex challenges including changing demographics and multiple school sectors within specific areas. All local solutions will of course be subject to full consultation.
“The purpose of area planning is to ensure that children, no matter where they live or what school sector they choose, have access to high quality education that is delivered in schools that are educationally and financially sustainable.”
The plan is available to download at www.eani.org.uk/school-management/area-planning/annual-action-plans