Board accused of mistakes as school stays open


A Northern Ireland secondary facing closure has won an unlikely stay of execution – but for one more year only.

Orangefield High School in Belfast has struggled with low pupil numbers and poor exam results for years. Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) is consulting on a proposal to shut the school, where singer Van Morrison was educated.

The closure, however, now looks like it will be delayed for 12 months because the BELB is yet to sort out where displaced pupils will transfer.

The Board wants to increase enrolment at both Ashfield Girls’ and Boys’ schools, also in east Belfast, but there will still not be enough space to take all Orangefield’s pupils.

Orangefield High has battled with low numbers for years. Its first year admissions cap has even been reduced from 145 to 100, although just 20 new pupils joined last September. At the start of the 2012/13 school year, it was filling just 250 of its available 548 desks.

It is presently in the “formal intervention” process where it must work to address areas for improvement identified by inspectors.

A viability audit last year highlighted issues with enrolment and exam results but showed that it was turning around its finances and was due to be in surplus by 2014.

BELB’s draft area plan, which followed the viability audit, paid close attention to Orangefield’s plight. It also highlighted a maintenance backlog of £2.3 million, the highest of any state-controlled school.

The BELB says it still plans to close the school “as soon as possible”. A spokesman said: “It is intended that this closure would be phased in order to ensure a smooth transition of both pupils and staff.

“Board officers have met with parents, board of governors, and teaching and non-teaching staff, to keep them informed of the situation. Any development proposal is subject to ministerial approval.”

NASUWT, which represents most of the school’s 19 teachers, says the Board made mistakes. 

Northern Ireland organiser Seamus Searson said: “We think that the Belfast Board got it wrong and they need to make sure they don’t get it wrong again in the future. There’s too many things at risk – the children and the teachers, they need a future.”


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