PARENTS loyal to St Anne’s Primary School in Donaghadee are sending their children back at the start of the next academic year, hoping for the best. 

It is unknown however, exactly how many will return once the school – which has been earmarked for closure at the end of October – reopens at the start of the new term.

The school had bid for integrated status but that was turned down in June, when it was also revealed that the school was to close down altogether.

It had been due to close its doors for the last time on August 31, but facing opposition from the school and local community, the Department of Education agreed to a proposal by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) to keep it open until October 31.

St Anne’s had been hoping for a year-long stay of execution to prove its viability. 

A judicial review into the decision has been lodged in a bid to reverse the closure decision.

Parents and governors had cited Donaghadee’s growth – tipped as being among Northern Ireland’s fastest growing towns – and the hundreds of houses scheduled to be built in the area in the coming months and years.

The school’s future was dealt the potentially fatal blow by the CCSM which submitted a ‘Development Proposal’ to close, due to falling numbers, which was upheld by the Department’s Permanent Secretary Dr Mark Browne. 

Parents were adamant however that the decision was ‘extremely shortsighted’ considering the expected growth of the town and rising demand for integrated education. 

Claire Speers, who has a daughter entering P6 and a son going into P4, is among parents sending their children back to their beloved St Anne’s at the end of this month. 

“I honestly don’t know if there’s any more we can do but they are heading back and will be last out the door on October 31 if that’s how it is going to go,” said Mrs Speers.

“I haven’t looked at other schools at the minute but I know other parents have moved their children although I have no idea how many.

“Really, we are at the stage where we don’t know if there is anything else we can do, as parents, apart from letting the legal process run.

“I’ll be sending them along but I don’t hold out a lot of hope. It’s a self-fullfilling prophecy if everybody takes their children out but I can understand the reasoning behind it. I don’t think there will be too many kids going in on the first day back at the end of this month.”

Louise Blythe, whose daughter is returning to P6, said the time between the closure announcement and the end of the academic year was insufficient to secure another school

“Fifteen days was not enough time to go and find another school place,” she said.

Highlighting the importance of P6, which prepares children for the transfer test in early P7, she said: “I need the time to go and explore my options for her while she is in a safe place, so she’ll have as little upheaval as humanly possible and if it turns out to be a good outcome, then great, but if not, they will be turning the lights off when she leaves.”

Ross Kerr said he remains positive about the outcome of the judicial review.

Mr Kerr, who has collected the names of local businesspeople from across Donaghadee and the surrounding area for a petition opposing the school closure, said: “Our daughter will be going to St Anne’s in September as we are committed to the school going integrated as its the best outcome for our Donaghadee community.

“Hopefully we will get some positive news from the judicial review.”