Action Plan lists schools at risk

Thursday, 4 May 2017

A WEST Tyrone MLA has warned that the closure of any rural school in the area will "rip the heart" out of the communities they serve.

The SDLP's Daniel McCrossan was speaking in reaction to the publication of a list of schools - including several within the Strabane district - that have been identified by the Education Authority (EA) where "sustainability is an issue" meaning they could be line for possible closure or mergers.

On Friday afternoon, the EA released its 'Action Plan' which lists a number of schools currently facing sustainability issues.

The document identifies Altishane PS, Loughash PS, St Joseph's PS, Glenmornan and St Patrick's PS in Donemana in a cluster and says there is the need to address provision "where sustainability in some schools in the areas is an issue". It adds that the managing authority will consult on options for future primary provision in the Donemana and Glenmoran areas by March 2018.

Erganagh PS in Castlederg and St Brigid's PS, Cranagh, are also named as as having sustainability issues with future provision to be considered by next year.

Reacting to the document, Mr McCrossan said the plan disproportionately hits rural schools and says that any closures will be the direct result of a failure of past Executive's to properly "grasp the nettle" in terms of education policy and recognising rural rights.

"The action plan published by the Education Authority is yet another blatant attack on rural services and rural people. Yet again, with apparent protection policy in place, rural communities will be severely disadvantaged by school closures," he said.

 "In England there has been extra funding given to rural schools yet here, these schools are seen as the lowest common denominator for cuts. It's a bad state of affairs when a Tory government are giving more money to rural schools yet in Northern Ireland, the plans are to close them.   

"This is yet another reason why it's so important an Executive is formed otherwise the decision to close these schools will rest with civil servants or the British government. Many of the schools impacted in West Tyrone provide high levels of educational attainment, provide numerous jobs and boost small local economies. They are the hub of their community. All this is now at serious risk."

The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) has also been highly critical of the document and warned that any closures will "strike at the very heart" of the local communities the schools serve.

"Every cut is now personal to our children and our communities. This latest announcement if it goes ahead will undoubtedly impact on our children's education and future - as well as strike at the very heart of communities," said Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the UTU said yesterday (Tuesday).

"We are all only too aware of the crisis facing our system and of course it is imperative that any funding is maximised in order that our children still have access to the best possible education. However, without a workable system in place at Stormont that is unlikely to happen and more decisions like this risk being made, without recourse to elected representatives. While they wrangle about the future, that future is looking increasingly bleak for our children and our communities."

Up to 40 schools across Northern Ireland are facing uncertain futures. Ms Callaghan added: "If we see 40 schools closed or merged, where is the benefit for children and teachers? Can those teachers be assured of continued employment or will their careers come to an abrupt halt? Where will the children go to school? How big with their new class sizes be?

"Of course, no school can be kept open on purely sentimental grounds. There is nothing to be gained if a child is attending a school which cannot offer them the spread of experiences that comes with schools above a particular size. It is beyond imperative, however, that those we have elected are in situ so these decisions can be monitored. Otherwise, what is the point of democracy?"


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