Catholic secondary closure confirmed in north Belfast

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The final Catholic secondary school serving one of Northern Ireland’s most built-up nationalist areas will shut down later this year.

The North’s education minister John O’Dowd says St Gemma’s High School in Ardoyne, north Belfast, is unsustainable and must close.

The all-girls secondary school is struggling with falling pupil numbers and poor exam performance.

Dozens of secondary schools across the North are similarly expected to disappear as a massive area-based planning exercise rolls out.

St Gemma’s closure leaves the neighbouring Ardoyne and Oldpark areas – which have an estimated Catholic population of 15,000 – without a local Catholic post-primary. Plans are well advanced, however, for secondary education to make a swift return to the area. St Gemma’s 2012/13 enrolment is 110 and there are no pupils in year 8.

While it received four applications from prospective year 8 children, they instead attended the nearby Our Lady of Mercy Girls’ School, outside the traditional parish boundary.

Our Lady of Mercy has, meanwhile, changed its name to Mercy College. This is the first in a series of changes for that school, the next of which is hoped to be the admission of boys.

Ardoyne’s only all-boys’ second-level school – St Gabriel’s College – shut its doors in 2008. After boys join Mercy, the next step will be the creation of a new co-educational college.

It is proposed that a multi-million pound campus will open on the former St Gabriel’s site. Up to £20 million of funding is potentially available.

“I appreciate that St Gemma’s High School has forged very close links with the Ardoyne community which it has served over the past 45 years and that its closure will be a disappointment to those who have been closely associated with the school during this time,” Mr O’Dowd said.

“But the sharply declining enrolments at St Gemma’s meant that the school was increasingly unable to provide the full range and quality of curricular offer that is required, particularly at the GCSE and post-16 phases.”


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