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School praised for 'courageous' move

Simon Doyle Education Correspondent

INTEGRATED education campaigners have backed the "courageous stance" taken by the first school in the Catholic sector ever to seek 'transformation'.

It is understood that 100 per cent of parents at Clintyclay PS near Dungannon supported an unprecedented move to become integrated.

If successful, it is thought it could prompt other under-threat schools to follow suit.

At least one other Catholic primary is also understood to have held discussions recently about transforming.

Clintyclay PS, which is near the Tyrone-Armagh border, came to prominence last year when it came out fighting against plans to shut it down.

It was one of dozens of schools across the north told it could be closed or merged by a process of 'area-based planning' aiming to save millions of pounds.

Supporters of Clintyclay, which opened in 1893, argued while pupil numbers are low, and always would be low, the school has a stable enrolment and should not be under threat.

The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) said it welcomed the transformation vote.

Chief executive Noreen Campbell said it was "a courageous stance taken by a group of parents who recognise that it makes educational and economic sense to open schools to all members of the community".

NICIE has argued strongly against the sectoral planning which has dominated through the area-based planning exercise.

It had been expected that when published last year, the area plans would contain numerous, detailed proposals for sharing across sectors. However, coalitions between Catholic and non-faith schools were largely ignored.

"This is a historic vote. The option for transformation has always been available for Catholic maintained schools but to date has never been followed," Ms Campbell said.

"That we now see Catholic schools exploring this option and indeed voting for it unanimously as in the case of Clintyclay, is testament to a change in the way people see schools and the important role schools should play in serving the local community rather than one part of the community.

"This vote is also indicative of the frustration felt by parents about the process of area-based planning. Parents do not feel that they have been fully involved in this process; they do not feel that they have been allowed to consider all educational options."

All public opinion surveys, Ms Campbell added, indicated that parents would prefer to see their children educated together.

"The parents of Clintyclay are clearly saying this. It is time that the managing authorities, CCMS and ELBs, accepted this and the direction of the minister who has asked for a move away from sectoral to area planning," she said.

"NICIE argues that any plans for future educational provision should engage with parents on the full range of options available to them including that of an integrated school.

"NICIE argues that all parents in an area should be involved in the consultation process on local educational need. In the meantime NICIE is available to work with schools from all sectors and with parent groups who wish to explore the integrated option."

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