Stewartstown PS principal to fight any closure plans

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

DESPITE her school's future coming into question following the publication of the latest Education Authority (EA) Annual Area Plan, Stewartstown Primary School Principal, Ms Kendra Bolton says she is confident the school will not be closed.

The future of a number of primary schools in the local area is in doubt following the publication of the plan. The publication notes "sustainability is an issue" at a number of schools in the Mid-Ulster area.

Schools which have been added to the plan this year in Mid-Ulster include Ballytrea Primary School, Coagh Primary School and Stewartstown Primary School.

Officials from the EA have made it clear that all three schools will be considered together as they attempt to work out how to best to "address school provision where sustainability is an issue" by March 2019.

However, despite seeing her school named on the list Ms Bolton is keen to assure concerned parents that she has little doubt that the school will remain in place and continue to grow.

Speaking to the Courier Ms Bolton said: "I am quietly confident that Stewartstown Primary School is in a strong position. The School meets all six criteria used by the EA to determine sustainable schools and  with our pupil numbers increasing the school is going from strength to strength.

"My concern is that people will jump to conclusions as news that the school has been included in this report spreads. The plan states that 'options will be consulted on with regards to future provision in the area' and we are happy to work with the Education Authority on this matter.

"I can easily recall the fact that the school was in a similar position 15-20 years ago, which we are really just recovering from now and would stress that just because the school has been named in this report doesn't mean that closure will happen soon or even be considered.

"If anyone has any concerns at all I'd be happy to meet with them to discuss it."

Her Coagh Primary School counterpart, Mr Bayne was also surprised to see his school named on the list.

"I wasn't expecting to see our school named on the list and we haven't been told why we have been named on it as of yet," he said.

"It is a bit of surprise given that we have grown our pupil numbers from 51 to 94 and within the next two years it is projected that our pupil numbers will increase to 120.

"We are a growing school in an enviable position. We are in a good financial position and have built strong links with the local community so it will be an interesting conversation with the EA."

The Principal of Ballytrea Primary School, which currently has 75 pupils enrolled, was unavailable for comment when contacted by the Tyrone Courier.

Several other schools in the area have also been named in the EA's Action Plan, with many appearing on the list for the second year in a row.

Last year the Education Authority stated that "sustainability is an issue" at a number of schools and this year it appears little progress has been made with many of the schools' Managing Authorities and Boards still to be consulted by dates ranging from October 2018 to March 2019.

This would mean the future of the schools, such as Aughnacloy Primary School, Lisfearty Primary School and Churchtown Primary School, are still up in the air.

The Department of Education's Sustainable Schools Policy states a rural primary school should have at least 105 pupils.

In the latest enrolment figures published by the Department for the 2017/18 academic year, Aughnacloy Primary School has 135 pupils enrolled, Lisfearty has 21 pupils while Churchtown Primary School has 29.

The Action Plan is considering the possibility of merging Lisfearty PS with Aughnacloy Primary School.

In last year's Action Plan, it is stated that the managing authority (EA) will "consult on options for future provision" of all those schools by March 2018. However, this deadline has passed with this year's Action Plan stating that the EA will consult "on options for future provisions of Aughnacloy Primary School and Lisfearty Primary School by October 2018."

Meanwhile, a continuing upward trajectory of enrolments at Dungannon's Irish language school, Gaelscoil Aodha Rua, means an increase in admission and enrolment numbers is on the cards with the Board of Governors set to consult on an increase in admission and enrolment numbers by March 2019.

Similarly, across Mid-Ulster the CCMS is working to the develop options to deal with growth in the Catholic Sector by March 2019.

A spokesperson for the CCMS said: "CCMS will review population trends in the Mid-Ulster area in the 2018-19 period to establish where extra primary school places may be required. If a need for places is established, CCMS will initiate discussions with the relevant schools with a view to consulting with parents, staff and Board of Governors on the proposed expansions."

Meanwhile, Birches PS, which had 182 pupils in the 2017/18 school year, is also mentioned in the plans, with "options for future provision" to be consulted on by the EA by June 2018.


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