Amalagamation plan possible solution for rural schools

Gilford Primary School, Gilford.
Gilford Primary School, Gilford.

THREE rural primary schools in the district under threat of closure could be saved through a plan to amalgamate them in a new-build solution, according to local sources.

St Mary’s Primary School, Dechomet; St Michael’s Primary School, Finnis; and St Matthew’s Primary School, Magheramayo, were all listed in the Southern Education and Library Board’s Draft Area Plan for Primary Provision published last week.

They were among eight other schools in the locality described as being under threat due to unfilled places within their classrooms.

St Mary’s currently has 78 pupils with 17 unfilled places, St Michael’s 58 pupils and 48 unfilled places, and St Matthew’s 59 pupils with 28 unfilled places.

However, an educational source close to the schools involved has suggested a local solution could be the amalgamation of the three schools into one central building accessible to all pupils and parents.

The principals of St Michael’s and St Matthew’s Primary Schools could not be contacted yesterday (Monday) for comment, while the principal of St Mary’s, Dechomet, Mr Brian Doyle, did not want to make a comment at this stage, other than to confirm the idea had been circulating in terms of a possible local solution.

Schools are free to come up with their own plans for sustainablity into the future and this could be seen as a possible way forward given the fact the maintained sector has a higher percentage of schools located in rural/outlying parts of the district.

There were a number of other local schools listed as under threat due to failing all or some of the six sustainability criteria which looked at enrolment figures, quality educational experience, strong leadership and management, accessibility and strong links with the community.

Within the local area, schools at risk include Gilford Primary School; St Colman’s Primary School, Dromore; Scarva Primary School, St Mary’s Primary School, Rathfriland; and Milltown Primary School, Lenaderg.

A consultation on the draft plan is now open, with members of the public invited to submit any comments until June 30. The plans and consultation response questionnaire are available on the website http://www.puttingpupilsfirst.info or in hard copy on request from individual education and library boards.