Fears that deprived areas of North Belfast will fail to secure a new all-ability post-primary school arose this week after the education minister announced an audit of all schools in the North which could lead to school closures.
John O’Dowd ordered an immediate audit of every school in the North on Monday, focusing on pupil numbers, finances and educational quality.
The audit will further delay the ongoing Post Primary Review of Catholic Education (PPRCE) and, as a result, the potential building of the new post-primary school in the Ardoyne, Ligoniel and Oldpark area.
One of two options in the PPRCE for North Belfast suggested a new all-ability school built in the BT14 area.
Elaine Burns is the co-chairperson of the community-based Education Task Group (ETG) who are campaigning for a new school in Ardoyne/Ligoniel/Oldpark.
“Whilst we understand the importance of schools to be efficient in terms of pupil numbers, finance and exam results, we are also concerned about potential closures which could lead to a lack of post primary provision in our area of North Belfast,” she said.
“We believe in offering quality schools within local communities which are easily accessible and offer the best education resources possible. Our vision for Catholic education in the parishes of Saint Vincent de Paul, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart is for a new co-educational nursery and primary school in each of our three local parishes working in close partnership with new co-educational all-ability post-primary school provision at the heart of our community.”
She said that they agree with the minister that schools need to have strong links with the community and that it is unfair for pupils to be turned away from schools on the basis of exam results.
“In our area of North Belfast we have gained community support through an in-depth consultation to debate the options following the Post Primary Review of Catholic Education (PPRCE). The community spoke out strongly in favour of a new post-primary school with over 4,500 individual responses supporting the need for such a provision so we urge the Minister to consider the importance of such provisions when reviewing current education resources.”
A spokesperson for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) said that the next stage of the PPRCE will be delayed following the minister’s announcement.
“It had been anticipated that the Post-primary Review regional report outlining recommendations for further consultation would be launched over the coming weeks,” they said.
“However, this has been impacted on in light of the Minister’s speech earlier this week. The Minister has tasked the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) to work closely with the education and library boards to carry out a strategic exercise to shape the future pattern of education delivery.
“The work that has been carried out by the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE) Post- primary Review to date will form an important part of this exercise for the Catholic-managed sector.
“All of the schools involved in the review will be kept up to date with any future developments.”