Méid an Téacs

Axe draws closer for struggling schools

Márta 7, 2013

More than half of secondary schools in the Dungannon District are unsustainable in terms of their current enrolments, according to a new report on the future of education in the Southern Education and Library Board.

Plans to deal with local schools failing to meet viability thresholds were announced in the SELB’s Area Planning report on Thursday.

According to the report, seven out of the district’s ten secondary schools are unviable in terms of their enrolment threshold for years 8 to 12. The Department of Education wants to ensure all secondary schools in the Dungannon district have at least 500 pupils, are getting good results and are not in debt.

Currently there are 317 spare places in local secondary schools, with 128 empty desks at Drumglass, 53 at Aughnacloy High School, 309 at St Joseph’s Coalisland, 21 at St Patrick’s Academy, and 8 at Integrated College Dungannon.

However, the report has called for further consultation to take place this year over the future of Dungannon’s Catholic secondary schools, as well as announcing a stay of execution on the future of Aughnacloy High School and Fivemiletown College, which had to turn away 16 pupils last year because the school had no places for them.

“The issue of cross-border education initiatives is still being developed politically and this may have implications for the planning in the Aughnacloy and Fivemiletown areas”, said the report.

Northern Ireland’s Education Minister has said he is unhappy at the slow progress of some education boards in planning to shut unsustainable schools. Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd is forming a steering group to speed up the process of closing and rebuilding.

The minister is eager for education boards to close unviable schools. He said that in some areas plans have not moved quickly enough. Mr O’Dowd said that was unacceptable and he wants the Catholic authorities to develop definitive solutions. The SELB report announced that merger plans have drawn closure for Dungannon’s Catholic secondary schools.

Following consultation, the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools has found that the best model for the future of St Patrick’s Academy and St Patrick’s College involves the development of a shared educational campus, while retaining the identity and status of both schools, said the report.

With regards to the proposed merger of St Joseph’s College Donaghmore, and St Joseph’s Coalisland, the CCMS said it had taken into account concerns around Irish Medium provision and the expressed view that St Joseph’s Grammar School Donaghmore is a sustainable and viable school.

The report said: “The proposed model is for an 11 – 19 co-educational school, inclusive of Irish Medium provision, in St Joseph’s Grammar School, Donaghmore with an 11 – 16 co-educational school in St Joseph’s High School, Coalisland.

“The potential for the establishment of a formal partnership to maximize opportunities for pupils in both schools, particularly at post 16, should be researched, evaluated and presented to the Trustees for further consideration by June 2013.”

Dungannon District’s primary schools are the next target and the Education Minister will reveal proposals by the middle of March. There are more than 80,000 empty places in schools and the minister has said some may have to close to improve the quality of education children receive.