TREAT US FAIRLY PLEADS LOCAL PRINCIPAL

A DONAGHADEE school, earmarked for closure, is not being treated fairly when compared to other schools in a similar position, it has been claimed.

St Anne’s Primary School, which has 58 pupils, has been told it will close on October 31, but it has now transpired that a County Londonderry primary, with just 44 pupils, has been given a year to prepare for closure.

The news has prompted the principal of St Anne’s, John Hennessey, to call on the Department of Education to create a ‘level playing field’ when making such crucial and important decisions.

Ballougry Primary School in County Londonderry had been due to shut its doors this August due to small numbers, but has been given until the end of the next academic year – in June 2024 – to prepare for closure.

A similar request by St Anne’s however, for a 12-month stay of execution, was denied, following last month’s decision by the Department of Education to close the school.

It followed a proposal to ‘discontinue’ the school by its managing authority, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).

The CCMS’s only concession to St Anne’s, which was notified in June that it was to close this August 31, was a two month postponement, until October 31 – despite having 14 more pupils than Ballougry’s 44.

The Education Authority had confirmed the closure of the Derry school – where actress Amanda Burton attended as a child – because it was deemed unsustainable. 

Similarly, St Anne’s pupil numbers were deemed too few to ensure its sustainability, with the closure notice coming as a double whammy, alongside the bombshell that its bid for integrated education status was also being denied.

The news came as a great shock in a town tipped as on the brink of a population surge with the development of many hundreds of new family homes over the next few years. 

Commenting on the Co Londonderry school’s year-long stay of execution, Mr Hennessy said his school had not been treated ‘equally’. 

“There are a number of schools earmarked for closure that we knew about and it’s one of the complaints we are bringing to the Education Authority and the Department,” he said.

He said Ballougry had been informed on June 2 about its closure plans.

“They received a letter on June 2 from the EA which, in summary, said that after liaising with the Department it was deemed too late to implement any decision, that it was too close to the end of the school year to tell parents and staff, and that they could be confident that they will be able to operate for the next academic year, 2023/24,” said Mr Hennessy.

“That was June 2 but then a week later, on June 8, the Department seems to decide it was OK to issue a closure notice for St Anne’s Primary School,” he said.

“They came back and say that’s been extended to October 31 but it’s not the same as the other schools who get a year.

“We are going back to them saying that they should be treating all schools equally,” he said.

“As disappointing as we are with the result for St Anne’s, as long as we are dealt with on a level playing field, we would have to accept it, but it’s not the same level playing field here at all,” he maintained. 

A spokesman for the Department of Education said that following the launch of the Judicial Review into St Anne’s situation, it could not comment.

“The Department has received notification of a legal challenge in regard to St Anne’s PS therefore it would not be appropriate to comment at this time.”