A SMALL rural school with just under 40 pupils has vowed to fight ‘in the strongest possible way’ a proposal by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) to close it later this year.
Parents, teachers and the board of governors at St Eugene’s in Tircur have joined forces in launching a legal action to save their school. It comes after a Development Proposal recommending its closure was published by the CCMS just before Christmas.
There remains intense anger within the local community over the handling of the situation by the CCMS.
This is the second time in a decade that the community has come together to fight against a Development Proposal, which if passed, would mean that the pupils at St Eugene’s would be forced to transfer to a different school by September this year.
St Eugene’s is one of three schools within a short distance of each other which are currently earmarked for closure.
Gillygooley PS is seeking to become an integrated school to avoid closure, while it seems likely that this will be the final academic year for Dunmullan PS.
Shane Kernan, chairman of the board of governors at St Eugene’s told the UH said that they would be fighting the proposed closure.
“We believe that this school is a vital part of the local rural community and the parish,” he said.
“The governors, stakeholders and whole school community are continuing to engage fully with the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools and legally, to find a way to secure the survival of the school.”
A spokesperson for Dunmullan PS also expressed their deep disappointment at the seemingly inevitable closure of that school, following the publication of a Development Proposal by the Department for Education.
“The staff, parents and governors of Dunmullan PS are saddened and disappointed that the proposal has been set in motion for the school to be closed in August 2022,” they said.
Discussions had taken place to explore the possibility of both Dunmullan PS and St Eugene’s becoming a integrated schools, but these did not reach a solution. A suggestion that the two could be jointly managed was also ruled out.
St Eugene’s previously criticised a figure of 105 pupils as sustainable for rural schools as ‘ludicrous.’
A consultation meeting held on the future of the school was told by one parent that, while there are sufficient numbers within the local community to sustain St Eugene’s, the constant threat of closure meant that parents are deciding to choose other schools instead.
There have also been complaints that the CCMS seemed intent on securing the closure of the school for a decade.
Moreover, the board of governors has also accused the CCMS of refusing to ‘engage directly’ with all stakeholders at an organised meeting at the school and had therefore failed to engage with stakeholders in a meaningful way.
But in its Development Proposal the organisation states that there is ‘no evidence’ of any other option considered which could provide what it describes as a ‘sustainable provision’ of the area.
It also says that all stakeholders were provided with the opportunity to present their views and contribute evidence to be considered as part of the process.
“CCMS recognises the commitment of the governors and staff, but the current challenging circumstances do not provide for a sustainable school,” they said.
“It is recognised that despite the school’s best efforts, it continues to face sustainability challenges.
“CCMS believes that the proposal to discontinue provision at St Eugene’s PS would not impact significantly on other schools. Given the capacity in the area, any displacement of pupils can be managed within existing provision.”
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