A PETITION bearing the names of 3,000 people opposed to the closure of St Anne’s Primary School in Donaghadee has been handed in to the Department of Education seeking to overturn its ‘flawed and short-sighted’ decision.
On Tuesday a cross-party delegation of political representatives joined school principal John Hennessy, head of the school’s board of governors Gillian McCollum, parents and supporters to press home its urgent campaign to keep the school open ahead of the school’s D-Day on October 31.
The Department of Education announced in June that St Anne’s was to close next month due to unsustainable numbers, after its bid for integrated status was refused.
It was announced by Dr Mark Browne, permanent secretary of the department, in support of a proposal by the Council for Catholic Maintained School to close the Millisle Road school.
Dr Browne was not present to accept the school petition which was instead accepted at the door of the Department’s headquarters, Rathgael House in Bangor, by Janis Scallon, Director of Sustainable Schools Policy and Planning.
The permanent secretary was unable to accept the petition himself because his decision is the subject a legal challenge, being taken by an unnamed pupil, which is expected before the High Court tomorrow (Friday).
Mr Hennessy said the petition was launched to hammer home the fact that the ‘community is seriously concerned about the impact that closing St. Anne’s will have on the town, at a time when Donaghadee is enjoying unprecedented growth and success’.
“The CCMS decision would leave Donaghadee and surrounding area without a Catholic maintained school option for seven miles,” he said.
“Community members are concerned that the loss of St. Anne’s PS will lead to Donaghadee becoming a single-identity town, when the strategic town plan is built round inclusivity and diversity, in order to make it welcoming to hundreds of new house buyers, and thousands of visitors and tourists.
“Families thinking of moving into one of Donaghadee’s hundreds of new homes will not have the option of choosing a maintained school, or even a school that can
prepare their children for sacraments if needs be,” he said, adding that the nearest maintained or integrated school is seven miles away.
The chair of St Anne’s board of governors, Alliance councillor Gillian McCollum, said with the petition the people of Donaghadee have shown their overwhelming opposition to the closure of a much-loved school and their determination to see Donaghadee provided with an integrated school.
“Donaghadee has the fastest growing population within the Ards and North Down borough and this is due in no small part to the large number of people moving to the area from a wide range of religious and cultural backgrounds, who have shown that they want integrated education,” said the chair.
She said the board of governors was urging the department to reverse the closure decision that supporters believed was ‘wrong in law’ and wrong for the community.
Andrew Gaskill, one of the school parents, stressed the Department’s decision was flawed and shortsighted.
He said the education department should base its closure decisions on information from local estate agents who ‘know first hand the demand for family housing in Donaghadee’.
“This is crucial information which the department seems to be blind to,” he said. “When the new families come, with other schools being packed to capacity, there will be no provision for them.”
“I doubt if even Specsavers could help the Department of Education with their severe lack of vision.”