FAMILIES of children at St Anne’s Primary School are moving out of Donaghadee after the closure of the school was confirmed in the High Court.
Several parents have claimed they are being forced to move after the Education Authority (EA) ‘reneged’ on promises that it would pay for future transport costs for children who have to move schools.
Louise Blythe, whose child attended St Anne’s, is among a number of families moving out of the town to find adequate schooling for their youngsters because other local schools are full.
The Donaghadee woman explained that it was during the consultation period into the school’s transformation to integrated status, a couple of years ago, that the EA told parents, that should the school close, parents without cars need not worry.
“There were parents who said ‘I don’t have a car to drive my kids to school outside the town’, and the EA stood up and told us – staff and parents, with the CCMS and everyone else there – that they would supply the bus.
“But now the EA said they won’t provide the bus unless we pay for it. They have now asked us to subsidy this and that’s what’s happening now.”
“Parents are being hit now for money for transport to the likes of Loughries or further into the Ards peninsula, the far side of Ards or the far side of Bangor,” she said. “But we’re saying ‘you closed our school, you pay for it’.
She said the difficult decision to uproot her family was taken after a judicial review to overturn the Department of Education’s decision to close the Millisle Road school failed last week in the High Court.
Louise spoke to the Chronicle while packing up her belongings in boxes, in preparation for next week’s move.
“But we’re not the only ones,” she said. “There are three other families who are moving too.”
The parent said she has been unable to find a place for her child in a school with small classroom numbers like St Anne’s children enjoyed.
She said all the other options hold at least 30 children per classroom.
“I would prefer to put my child into a class of under 30 children. In teaching, a classroom can only go as fast as the slowest person in it and if you have 30 children that is difficult.
“A lot of these schools only have a teacher and one classroom assistant so how many can you get round? The quality of education is being hammered everywhere, not just for our children.”
Mrs Blythe, who was among parents to first propose integrated status for St Anne’s a number of years ago, reiterated that the integrated option had been supported by ‘everyone’.
But, she said, St Anne’s was ‘treated completely differently from every other school that has tried to go down this road’.
Another parent of a St Anne’s pupil, Andrew Gaskill, said he was ‘gravely concerned and disappointed at the outcome’ of the Judicial Review.
Having spent ‘considerable time trying’ to fight the closure, he said: “From the start of the review process, parental representations to CCMS were given scant regard.
“Subsequent objections to Department of Education, focusing on the crucial impact of the 400 plus new houses being built, which were the key to unlocking an enrolment surge, were dismissed.”
Mr Gaskill said local public opinion was also ignored. “Likewise, the community backlash prompting a petition of 3,000 signatures was again ignored, showing that the Department cares little for parent and public opinion.”
He restated his view that the decision would soon be found to be ‘short-sighted’ and said criteria used to close schools were ‘based on past trends with no scope for visualising what the future holds’.
“I am sure over time, the decision to close St Anne’s will prove to be short-sighted, and when the new houses are completed and new families established with no primary education provision due to other local schools quite likely oversubscribed, a new school will be required, and I will be the first to tell DE ‘I told you so!’,” he said.
“The irony is, if the trustees of St Anne’s sell the school and lands, it will undoubtedly go for housing, probably with young families, which will only exacerbate the need for a school.
“After 91 years, the closure of St Anne’s will be a huge loss to the Donaghadee and wider community, sadly because the Department seems unwilling to look ahead. They need to take a good long hard look at themselves!”
A spokesperson for the Education Authority said it is preparing a response.