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Campaigners urge return of Catholic education

A task group would like the new Mercy College to relocate to Crumlin Road

A PLANNED shake-up of post-primary schools should involve Catholic secondary education returning to one of the north's most built-up nationalist areas, campaigners have urged.

Two girls' and two boys' schools will be involved in one of the largest re-organisations ever undertaken in the north.

The plans, if approved, will mean the end of single sex Catholic secondary education in north Belfast. Grammar schools in the area will play no part and will remain single sex.

Mercy College is among the schools involved. It is proposed it should expand and become a 750-pupil co-educational school.

The Education Task Group (ETG) wants this new co-ed school moved from its existing site in Ballysillan and a new school built where the former St Gabriel's once stood on Crumlin Road.

The ETG was formed to develop a schools' blueprint for the neighbouring north Belfast parishes of Ardoyne, Oldpark and Ligoniel.

The Ardoyne and Oldpark areas, which have an estimated Catholic population of 15,000, have been without a nearby Catholic secondary school since the closure of St Gemma's for girls in 2013. St Gabriel's for boys shut in 2008, was left in disrepair, and became a magnet for vandals for years before it was finally demolished.

The ETG is now appealing to parents to respond to a public consultation exercise and show their support for relocating Mercy onto the Crumlin Road site.

A leaflet, which has been sent to homes reads: "After a long fight, we are nearing the end of our journey towards a new school for the communities of St Vincent de Paul, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart.

"We cannot do this alone. To achieve this vision of hope for our children, we need your vote.

"It has taken eight years of constant pressure by the Education Task Group to get to this point. Please help with this final push to give our children the future they rightly deserve."

The latest plans also involve Little Flower Girls School and St Patrick's College Bearnageeha being "discontinued" with a view to facilitating the establishment of a new Catholic 11-19 co-educational post-primary school.

In addition, Edmund Rice College will expand and become co-educational.

The plan is that the changes will take effect from the start of the 2017/18 academic year.

A public consultation will run until next month. Education minister John O'Dowd will then consider any objections and responses before making a final decision.

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