SPEAKING OUT: Children and parents at a protest opposing plans to close Little Flower school and open a co-education replacement

A group of concerned parents who marched on the North Belfast home of the Bishop of the Down and Connor have been granted an official meeting with him early next week.

The parents, who are fighting to ensure that same-sex education remains an option for pupils in Catholic post-primary schools in North Belfast, staged a protest outside Little Flower Girls’ School on Tuesday evening before marching to the home of Bishop of Noel Treanor, where they delivered a letter raising their concerns.

Over 50 people walked to Lisbreen House, the residence of the Bishop, and Independent Assembly candidate Fra Hughes read out the contents of the letter aloud.

Under plans announced by Education Minister John O’Dowd, a post-primary shake-up in North Belfast, set to take effect from September 2017, will mean that children will now only receive a single-sex education in the Catholic sector if they go to a grammar school.

Under the plans, Little Flower and St Patrick's College Bearnageeha will be discontinued to facilitate a new Catholic co-educational post-primary school across a split site.

Edmund Rice and Mercy Colleges will both expand and become co-educational schools, each with up to 750 pupils.
Collette Scullion, whose daughter is set to start Little Flower this September, said that teachers, past pupils, parents, children and grandparents who attended the protest believe that a decision to close the school had been influenced by outdated information and that prior consultation had failed to include prospective parents.

“We see this as a positive step and are happy that the Bishop has now agreed to meet our delegation,” she said.

“We hope to also meet with CCMS and the Education Minister. That may be difficult given that he is unlikely to take up his post again post-election but he rubber-stamped this plan. We have questions for him about the case for change document, which we believe is flawed and detrimental to the education of our children.”

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Down and Connor confirmed that Bishop Treanor had agreed to meet with representatives of the concerned parents.

“On Tuesday evening, a number of concerned parents and pupils staged a protest on the Somerton Road against the proposed closure of Little Flower Girls’ School as part of an overall plan for the restructuring of post-primary educational provision in North Belfast. During the course of this protest, Bishop Noel Treanor joined these parents and pupils to listen to their concerns.

“They read out and presented to Bishop Treanor a letter raising objections to the proposed closure of Little Flower, which he agreed to pass on to CCMS and the Department of Education on their behalf. Building upon previous meetings held between diocesan personnel and the concerned parents, Bishop Treanor also agreed to meet with representatives of the concerned parents in the forthcoming days.”