Anger at refusal for extra school places

SHOCK and outrage has greeted Education Minister John O’Dowd’s decision to thwart proposals for an extra classroom at Donacloney Primary School - leaving it with no option but to turn new pupils away.

Mr O’Dowd blamed ‘significant financial pressures’ and said to allow Donacloney to increase enrolment would have an adverse affect on other schools in the area.

This is despite the Southern Education and Library Board backing an expansion of the school from eight classes to nine.

The school’s principal Miss Lynne Nesbitt said she was ‘shocked and disappointed’.

“The reasons for the decision have been set out in terms of numbers, statistics and data but there is a complete disregard for the interests of individual children and families. The school is at the heart of the community. People have chosen to live here, assuming that their children will attend the local school along with other local children,” she said.

The school, which is in the heart of Donaghcloney village was opened in 1979 and currently has 224 pupils with another 26 children in the nursery unit. They have an admissions limit of 30 but it is understood 40 pupils wish to join the school. Given that the school is at its capacity, ten children will be forced to find an alternative school in September.

“It is unacceptable that they are expected to travel distances away from home to fill up spaces in other schools. If this is the system then the system is fundamentally flawed. I am confident that the other schools are good schools so that’s not the issue,” said Miss Nesbitt.

“I understand that the Department of Education is facing financial pressures but we have asked for one mobile classroom to meet the needs of Donacloney. Our request, which had the full support of the SELB, would be an investment for the future of the school and, more importantly, would meet the needs of children in Donacloney. Our school is child-centred and family orientated. This decision is not.”

DUP Councillor Mark Baxter said: “This decision is an absolute disgrace on the part of the Minister.

“It is scandalous that approximately 10 children from the local area are going to be denied education in their local primary school in September.

“Donacloney Primary School is positioned right at the very heart of the village, and parents are quite rightly outraged at this decision given that other local primary schools within the area are already at capacity.

“It would appear that the Minister is quite content to send children aged four on a 10-mile journey to obtain education that they could obtain locally. The denial of this additional capacity must be challenged and the DUP will be doing that at all levels. Donacloney village is growing and it is vital that the local primary school has sufficient capacity to cope with this growth.”

DUP MLA Alderman Stephen Moutray said, “I along with Cllr Baxter will be meeting with the Southern Education and Library Board to seek a resubmission of this development proposal to the Minister. We will also be in contact with the Minister concerning this very important issue and will be writing to the Education Committee.

“The Minister’s decision is a further attack on the Controlled Sector where he seems more set on closing schools than increasing capacity where there is a clearly demonstrated need.”

The Minister said: “My Department faces significant financial pressures, particularly on its front-line schools’ budget, and it is therefore important that we maximise the impact of available resources.

“Enrolment trends at the schools in the local area indicate that there are sufficient places to meet the current demand so to allow Donacloney Primary School to increase beyond its current approved enrolment number has the potential to impact adversely on other schools in the area.”

An SELB spokesman said: “The Board is awaiting more detailed comment from the Department of Education on the Minister’s decision and will consider this at its next meeting.”