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Kilkeel schools shake-up will see one shut down and another grow

St Columban's College, Kilkeel has seen pupil numbers fall in recent years

A PLAN to shut a secondary school and create a new `bi-lateral' college has won approval.

St Columban's College in Kilkeel, Co Down will close later this year.

At the same time, St Louis' Grammar School will start to award some places using non-academic criteria.

The Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education first unveiled the plan about five years ago.

At that time, it was intended that a review would "determine how best the educational opportunities for pupils in St Columban's College may be achieved as part of the transition to a larger St Louis'".

That was to include consultation on the potential closure of St Columban's and be subject to "guaranteed access for current pupils" to Catholic post-primary education in the area. There was, however, no movement and both schools reopened.

A fresh proposal brought forward last year has now been approved by Department of Education permanent secretary Derek Baker.

St Louis' is to adopt a bi-lateral approach to its admissions. This will ensure that children from the area of Lower and Upper Mourne will access the school through non-academic criteria.

Up to 40 per cent of Year 8 admissions will be available to children from the wider region by means of academic selection.

"I have considered the issues carefully, in particular the sustainability problems faced by St Columban's College in terms of enrolment numbers and its very difficult financial position," Mr Baker said.

"Closing any school is a sensitive and difficult decision. However, on balance I am content to approve the recommendations, specifically that St Columban's should close and an increase in the admissions number and a phased increase in the approved enrolment number at St Louis' Grammar."

There are no plans yet for the St Columban's site. Gaelscoil na mBeann is located within the grounds. The site's owners have provided a commitment to the gaelscoil it will not be evicted without having a suitable new home.

Three primary schools in the wider area are also due to merge onto a single site. While St Columban's is in a different parish, it is understood to be among the options under consideration.

Meanwhile, a rural Catholic school is being shut down in the middle of the year - because every child has left.

St Matthew's PS, Garvaghey in Co Tyrone had been struggling with low pupil numbers and finances.

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