Augher primary school told itís closing for good just seven days before end of term

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Augher primary school told itís closing for good just seven days before end of term thumbnailOne weekís notice

AN AUGHER primary school has been thrown into shock after being given just one week's notice that it will close at the end of term.

The school community at St Brigid's PS, based on the Dunroe Road, has been left dismayed and dumbfounded by the decision.

It was made by the Department of Education following a proposal by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) to close the school, which is celebrating its 50th year.

Given the current political impasse at Stormont, the decision has been made by the Department's Permanent Secretary, Derek Baker.

Consistently low enrolments - there are currently 20 children attending the school - have meant the closure of the school had been on the cards for some time, but the manner of the closure has left staff, who will now face redundancy, parents and pupils in shock.

A parent whose child attends the school expressed his disbelief at the decision.

Speaking to the Courier, he said: "This has all come as a bit of a shock. The school has been open for 50 years and you have been given five days warning that they're closing it.

"The consultation on the closure opened on the 14th of February for two months and we assumed there was no way they could close the school this year.

"It's just a complete mess."

The school's principal, Mrs Josephine Donnelly, was only informed last Thursday, with parents then meeting with the school on Thursday night to be informed of the news.

And the parent said those in attendance couldn't believe what they were hearing at the meeting.

"The parents were just in complete despair," he said.

"Because we hadn't heard anything as the weeks crept on, we just made the assumption that they have taken the same view that they can't take the decision to close the school now.

"They thought no right thinking person would make the decision so late in the day. We are being left high and dry.

"CCMS are the managing authority and where are the interests of the children in all of this?"

Attempts are being made to mount a campaign in response to this move, with it hoped a deferral of a year could be put in place to enable a smoother transition.

However, time is not on the school's side, with the school to be formally shut as of 31st August.

As far back as 2006, the school, along with St Macartan's PS, Clogher and St Patrick's PS, Aughadarragh, voted for the three, which all have enrolment levels below the 'Sustainable Schools' threshold, to amalgamate and for a new school building to be constructed.

However, nothing further happened, and the CCMS has moved to close St Brigid's.

And Sinn Fein MP for the area, Michelle Gildernew, has expressed her strong objections to the plan.

Speaking to the Courier, Ms Gildernew said: "I think the whole consultation has been handled abysmally by the CCMS

"It clearly has an impact on the two other schools in the area and they haven't been consulted.

"I'm hoping for a deferral at this stage for at least a year to allow us to continue to look for a long-term solution.

"The school community has been badly let down."

In a statement issued to the Courier last Friday by the CCMS, a spokesperson said: "CCMS was notified yesterday that the Department of Education has approved Development Proposal 502 to close St Brigid's Primary School on 31st August, 2017.

"This proposal has been in development for some time and CCMS has liaised regularly with the school over this period.

"The decision was made by the Permanent Secretary in the absence of a Minister. The decision to close a school is never easy but CCMS will continue to work with the school and governors over coming months during this time of change."

Also in a statement on Friday, the Department of Education (DE) said it "expects CCMS to work with the school" to "ensure a smooth transition" by the 30th of June.

A Department spokesperson said: "This proposal was published on 14th February 2017 and the objection period ran until 14th April 2017. DE facilitated a meeting with parent representatives on 31st May 2017 prior to making the decision.

"Concerns raised by parents required the Department to obtain further assurances from CCMS which were sought and received and the responses were factored into the decision making process.

"Implementation of the decision is a matter for CCMS as the managing authority of St Brigid's Primary School.

"The Department has indicated in its approval letter that it expects CCMS to work with the school concerned to ensure a smooth transition for all St Brigid's pupils as a matter of urgency and preferably before the end of this school year which is likely to be on or before 30 June 2017."


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