School closures and mergers loom in Northern Ireland

Written by: Simon Doyle | Published:
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A review of Northern Ireland schools has identified dozens of secondary providers as having sustainability issues.

The schools, many of which are struggling with low numbers, could be considered for closure or merger.

The annual action plan, published by the Education Authority (EA), details areas where schools should be shut down, amalgamated or expanded. The EA wants to create a network of schools “of the right type, of the right size, in the right place”.

There are eight new “work streams” relating to post-primary schools and many more carried over from previous years. They include reviewing Blackwater Integrated College in Downpatrick, which has more empty desks than pupils. The EA will also consider the future of The High School in Ballynahinch.

Catholic education bosses will explore the option of adding key stage 4 to the new St John the Baptist College in Portadown. It operates as a “junior high” at present. Ballymoney High could also get a sixth form.

In Derry and Antrim, school managing authorities will develop options for future provision at Coleraine College, Dunluce High and North Coast Integrated College by March 2020. Dunluce and Coleraine have fewer than 300 pupils – below the 500 needed to be considered sustainable.

While the action plan names individual schools, it does not make specific recommendations. Any decision to shut them would have to be subject to consultation.

EA interim director of education Kim Scott said that several schools are too small to provide pupils with access to a broad and balanced curriculum, extensive extra-curricular activities, and quality pastoral care.
Chief executive of the Controlled Schools’ Support Council, Barry Mulholland, said: “Account needs to be taken of accessibility and transport options, especially in rural communities.”


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