‘A monumental mess’ – frustration as school closure saga drags on


The delay in trying to shut down a struggling Northern Ireland secondary school has been a criticised as a “total shambles”.

A cross-party Stormont committee has been highly critical of the proposal to close a school with low numbers and poor exam results.

Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) wants to shut down Orangefield High School, where singer Van Morrison was educated.

The idea was that Orangefield in east Belfast would close in September past and pupils would transfer automatically to one of either Ashfield Boys’ or Ashfield Girls’ high schools.

The whole plan had to be shelved, however, because the already popular Ashfield schools did not have enough room for the extra pupils.

Orangefield will still close, but it is unclear exactly when this will now happen.

At the same time, development proposals to expand the Ashfield schools are still awaiting ministerial approval.

Now, the Northern Ireland Assembly Education Committee has entered the debate saying the whole delay is a “monumental mess”. 

Chairman Mervyn Storey said: “There is a serious issue that there is an example of no planning. They talk about planning, this has been the most disastrous situation.

“The BELB does not appear to have planned the controlled provision in east Belfast and there has been a failure to communicate with staff and parents.”

Mr Storey says he is now seeking a written update from BELB.

DUP committee member Robin Newton adds that the only way the situation can be described is a “disaster and shambles”. He was among members who quizzed former BELB interim chief executive Gavin Boyd about the situation. 

Mr Boyd, who is now heading another local board on an interim basis, was in charge of BELB when the proposal was first brought forward.

Mr Boyd says there had been a clear understanding about the plan, and adds that teaching staff were informed that they would be transferred to either of the Ashfield schools.



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