Closures on cards in Northern Ireland

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Coalitions between Catholic and non-faith colleges are being ignored by a radical plan that will see dozens of Northern Ireland schools shut down or merged.

Numerous secondary schools are expected to disappear and new models of education emerge through area planning.

Crippling budget cuts and ever-decreasing pupil numbers mean action must be taken to reduce the number of schools across the North. New area plans represent the biggest overhaul of the education sector in 50 years.

They follow on from the publication in March this year of viability audits, which had red-flagged failing schools.

Many towns in Northern Ireland have Catholic, state-controlled, integrated and Irish-medium schools all in close proximity. It is, therefore, expected that the area plans will bring forward numerous, detailed proposals for sharing across sectors.

Draft plans, which are now out for consultation, contain fewer cross-sectoral solutions than had been anticipated.

Teachers say it is clear from the five separate area plans that different education boards have different ideas. 

While some appear prepared to make concrete recommendations about specific schools, others are delaying any decision-making. Boards have drawn up a handful of proposals alongside the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools.

In the Newtownards area, it is proposed a “strategic alliance” is created between St Columba’s College in Portaferry, Strangford Integrated College and Glastry High School.

In rural Co Fermanagh, it is planned that the Catholic and state-controlled sectors explore the feasibility of a cross-sectoral federated model to deliver a “multi-campus solution”.

Unions are far from happy with the plans. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation says there is a lack of “joined-up thinking”.


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