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Small school first in five years to become integrated

Loughries Primary School

A SMALL rural state school with little tradition of educating Catholic children is to become the first to be welcomed into the integrated sector in five years.

Education minister John O'Dowd yesterday approved a development proposal that will see Loughries PS outside Newtownards transform from a controlled primary school to an integrated one from September 2016.

Integrated campaigners are celebrating the unexpected positive decision, the expansion of the sector having ground to a halt since 2007, around about the same time that shared education projects began to grown in popularity.

The last new integrated school opened in 2007 and it has been five years since any school transformed to integrated status.

All transformed schools must achieve 10 per cent of their P1 intake drawn from the minority tradition. In the longer term, the minority tradition must account for 30 per cent of the total enrolment.

Department of Education statistics show that the school had zero Catholic children in three of the last five academic years and fewer than five Catholic pupils in 2013 and 2014.

Parents initiated the process to seek transformation when the school, which was founded more than 170 years ago, was identified in the area-based planning exercise as one that should be kept under review. Pupil numbers had been falling annually and there were just 54 enrolled last year.

A ballot of parents found overwhelming support for transformation, and Mr O'Dowd said he was satisfied that sufficient evidence had been provided to support the change.

"I am approving this development proposal in line with my statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education. My approval of this proposal gives the school the opportunity to realise a fully integrated ethos and to attract sufficient numbers from both sides of the community," Mr O'Dowd said.

The Integrated Education Fund said it was delighted.

"The decision means this school community's commitment to welcoming children of all faiths and none has been respected," chief executive Tina Merron said.

"Independent research in the Newtownards area, as well as a parental ballot, demonstrated strong majority support for an integrated school to serve local families.

"Education in accordance with parents' wishes is enshrined in the 1986 Education Order; the 1989 Education Order places a statutory duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education. We are encouraged that John O'Dowd has acknowledged and fulfilled this duty in his response to the campaign for integration at Loughries primary."

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