Northern Ireland schools shake-up gathers pace with flood of proposals

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A radical shake-up of secondary education in Northern Ireland is now gathering pace after area-based planning appeared to have stalled.

In recent days, 11 schools from various different sectors across the North have been told they are facing significant change. Some will shut, some will merge and some will be made even bigger. 

A plan to shut two more schools, meanwhile, is facing a High Court challenge.

There have been a handful of proposals advanced since the massive area-based planning exercise was published in 2012.

Crippling budget cuts and ever-decreasing pupil numbers means action is being taken to reduce the number of schools across the North.

Area-based planning exercises will help address education minister John O’Dowd’s concern that the North has too many schools and not enough pupils. After months of inactivity, a raft of proposals has come forward in recent days.

In the Catholic sector, Christian Brothers’ Secondary School in west Belfast is facing closure. Pupils will then move to a larger St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School on the opposite side of the same road. St Mary’s will begin to phase academic selection out, and will become all-abilities.

There is a similar plan in north Co Derry, where Dominican College Portstewart will end its use of the 11-plus and become a comprehensive school.

In nearby Coleraine, Loreto College is to be made bigger to facilitate the closure of St Joseph’s High School. 

Elsewhere, Immaculate Conception College in Derry’s “waterside” is to shut down, a victim of falling pupil numbers.

And in south Fermanagh, three schools in Derrylin, Lisnaskea and Roslea are to merge into a single all-abilities secondary, but on two campuses.

In the non-Catholic sector, Mr O’Dowd has approved a proposal to shut down Ballee Community High School in Ballymena as soon as this year. The nearby Dunclug High School will expand.

Meanwhile, parents want a judge to quash Mr O’Dowd’s decision to close both Newtownbreda and Knockbreda High Schools and create one new school. One of those behind a legal challenge is the mother of a dyslexic girl who fears her educational progress may be jeopardised by the move.

“If the minister had engaged properly in the consultation exercise and looked at the lack of reasoning underpinning the proposals that would have been completely apparent to him,” David McMillen QC, for the Newtownbreda parents said. Mr O’Dowd’s counsel insisted the minister had taken everything into account as part of a detailed analysis.


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