COMMUNTITY RALLIES BEHIND SCHOOL

THE CLOSURE of St Anne’s Primary School, in Donaghadee, has been postponed for two months, a decision this week described as ‘ludicrous’.

The school was told last week that it would close on August 31 but after an urgent meeting with the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), that closure date was put back until the end of October.

School principal, John Hennessey, labelled two month stay as ‘ludicrous’ and governors are to press ahead with a bid to secure a year-long postponement.

Parents have begun a petition for support objecting to the Millisle Road school’s axing, which they intend to hand to the Department of Education.

And following a meeting of parents and teachers late last week with local political representatives, the initial steps of a judicial review are understood to be taking place in a bid to reverse the decision.

Last week the Department rejected St Anne’s bid for transformation to an integrated primary school, and delivered the double blow that it was to close this August.

The decision followed a ‘development proposal’ by the CCMS to close the school due to falling numbers. 

The Department said it had approved the CCMS decision to close the school based on ‘the historic low enrolment at St Anne’s Primary School’. 

However, the school secured an eleventh hour postponement last Wednesday after school principal John Hennessy, met with officials from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) at its head office in Lisburn.

Revealing the CCMS proposed a new date for closure on October 31, Mr Hennessy said it was too brief to allow for pupils and staff to find other school places and jobs respectively, should it ultimately be forced to close its doors.

“The Board of Governors rejected this on the basis that it does not allow for appropriate closure and transfer arrangements to be put in place for our pupils and staff,” said Mr Hennessy

“The Board of Governors are still in negotiations with the CCMS to modify the proposal to August 31, 2024. We are still awaiting their response.”

As they await the next development, parents have begun to collect signatures to object to the decisions from the Department of Education. 

Una Gaskin, a parent and owner of The Cabin in Donaghadee, is inviting visitors to her popular ice-cream shop to sign the petition and is understood to have collected close to a dozen pages of names.

Another parent, Ross Kerr, has been traversing Ards and North Down, visiting businesses, community groups and churches asking for support for the campaign. 

Parents of St Anne’s are due to ask visitors to this Saturday’s annual Donaghadee Lifeboat Festival to sign the petition. 

The Diocesan of Down and Connor declined to comment, stating all education issues were dealt with by the CCMS.

In a statement the CCMS said it recognises that the timing of the decision ‘presents challenges’ for the school community.

“Having considered a request from the Board of Governors, CCMS agreed to an extension until October 31, 2023 or as soon as possible thereafter,” said the statement.

“This extension will allow some additional flexibility and support as all move forward with the transfer of pupils and staff.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said: “Every Development Proposal (DP) is considered on its own merits. The statutory power to decide on DPs is a power of the Department of Education. In the absence of a Minister, the decision-making powers of the Department in relation to DPs are exercised by the Permanent Secretary.”