THREE schools in County Armagh have been recommended for closure under controversial plans for the future of primary education published today (Tuesday).
Northern Ireland’s five education and library boards were ordered last year by Education Minister John O’Dowd to conduct a review into viability.
The findings from each board area were published simultaneously this morning.
And Armagh I has been sifting through the findings and conclusions to bring you the figures you need to know!
A threshold of 105 pupils was required for a school to be seen as sustainable in a rural area, with a figure of 140 for urban. Others which fell below this mark were in need of further action.
In some cases, there were proposals brought forward to increase enrolments.
In all, 846 schools across Northern Ireland are at risk.
Many have been asked to find ‘local area solutions’, meaning they are not yet out of the woods.
The Southern Education and Library Board – based in Armagh – covers schools right across the county, taking in the Armagh City and District and Craigavon Borough Council areas. It also covers the Cookstown and Dungannon Council areas, as well as Newry and Mourne, which takes in much of rural South Armagh.
Armagh I has been examining indepth comprehensive 78-page document brought forward by the SELB today in response to the Minister’s orders and how they might impact locally.
Across the Southern Area, there is a total of 222 primary schools, with 88 of them failing to make the required threshold.
Plans brought forward have looked at, among other things, pupil numbers, budget and quality of education.
Within the Armagh Council, there is a total of 39 primary schools across the five sectors of controlled, maintained, integrated, Church of Ireland and preparatory.
Total enrolment in the city and district stands at 5704 – meaning there is a surplus of available spaces of 1692 and the review and recommendations published today are aimed at reducing that.
It has been recommended that three schools – St James Primary, Dromatee, St John’s Primary, Eglish and St Michael’s Primary, Clady – close.
‘Local area’ or ‘parish solutions’ will be explored in relation to all of the following schools, which do not meet the threshold, with details given here – in brackets – of the current number of available unfilled spaces for each:
Darkley (91); Derryhale (19); Drumhillery (34); Drumsallen (53); Foley (92); Killylea (18); Lisnadill (54); Mountnorris (27); Clea (27); St Oliver Plunkett’s, Ballyhegan (23); Drelincourt (40).
St Malachy’s and Mt St Catherine’s Primary Schools in Armagh are to be looked at too in relation to local solutions – both have been described as having “fluctuating enrolments”. Armagh CBS also has been described as having a “fluctuating enrolment”, but an increasing enrolment within the Irish Medium Unit, Bunscoil Ard Mhacha.
Within the Craigavon Council area, there is a total of 32 schools across four sectors. Current total enrolment stands at 8671, meaning a total of 2116 unfilled places exist at present.
Five of the 32 schools fall below the 105 pupil threshold. They are Bleary (73); Tullygally, Craigavon (141); St Mary’s, Derrytrasna (14); St Mary’s Maghery (47); St Patrick’s, Derrynaseer (93).
Among the other schools locally not filling all available places are the following – all of which fall within the Newry and Mourne Council area: Bessbrook (86); Cortamlet (23); Kingsmils (27); Mullaglass (41); Newtownhamilton (60); St Malachy’s. Ballymoyer (27); St Laurence’s, Belleeks (20); St Mary’s, Glassdrumman (56); St Michael’s, Newtownhamilton (50); St Paul’s, Cabra (7).
Across the Southern Education and Library Board area as a whole, three other schools have also been earmarked for ‘potential’ closure. The CCMS is to consult on the closure of Clontifleece Primary in Newry. Crievagh Primary in Cookstown and Clintyclay in Dungannon also face the axe.
Public consultation on the draft primary plans is now open and will run until June 30.
This is being done, according to the SELB, to “ensure that schools and the general public have sufficient time to read and reflect on the proposals before responding”‘.
Final recommendations will then be made before being presented to Minister O’Dowd, who will have the final decision.
The publication of the plans have of course led to relief and anxiety in equal measure within local communities.
Among those coming out in opposition to the proposals brought forward by the SELB is Armagh Lord Mayor Sharon Haughey-Grimley, an ardent supporter of St Michael’s PS in Clady.
The school currently has an enrolment of 44 pupils, with a further 26 available places unfilled.
“This is a great school in a rurally isolated area, with very poor road infrastructure,” said the Lord Mayor.
“Where are the children of Clady meant to be educated if our school closes? The Northern Ireland Assembly won’t even salt the roads!
“We cannot allow the Minister of Education to close Clady school and I will be working with local parents, the school, past pupils and local residents to persuade Minister O’Dowd to ‘Save Our School’. It shouldn’t be a numbers lottery – Clady is a good school that is delivering for our children and young people in rural Armagh.”
Minister O’Dowd, meanwhile, is urging the public to make their voices heard.
“I encourage anyone with an interest in education in their local area to examine the plans and make their views known,” he said.
The full plans and findings are available to view on the SELB website and the public can have their say through a special website which can be accessed at www.puttingpupilsfirst.info