Review proposes four primary schools could become two
CATHOLIC, integrated and state schools could come together under a proposal to shake up primary education in a rural area of Co Antrim.
A review by Ulster University (UU) looked at the sustainability and future of four schools from different sectors in Glenarm and Carlough.
The study, which was commissioned by the Integrated Education Fund, explored ways of removing 200 empty desks.
Researchers focused on Carnlough Controlled Integrated PS; St John's PS in Carnlough; Seaview PS, a Catholic school in Glenarm; and the state-controlled Carnalbanagh PS outside Glenarm.
A `community conversation' was held to identify how to move forward in an landscape of declining school populations and reduced financial support.
In each of the four schools, the pupil numbers are lower than the approved enrolment. There are 81 surplus places at Seaview PS alone, the report said.
While a range of views were obtained through the community conversation, the strongest preference was for the retention of two schools - one in each village.
"The most popular choice was for St John's PS to remain in Carnlough and the amalgamation of Seaview PS and Carnlough Controlled Integrated PS as one integrated school in Glenarm.
"While there was general agreement that any re-location of integrated education should be to a new site to remove historic sectoral associations, the Carnlough CIPS school community would favour the retention of integrated provision through their school.
"A small number of respondents emphasised that the option of controlled education with a Protestant ethos should remain in the area."
The two-school preference, it said, did not ignore parental choice for individual faith schools nor the implications for Carnalbanagh PS but represented "the most realistic and sustainable option".
Any official proposals to merge or close school would have to be published by the Education Authority.
No Catholic school has ever 'transformed' to integrated status.
On Seaview, the report added, it was recognised that "not all parents would be comfortable with integrated education, that they would see it as the removal of parental choice and would therefore choose to send their children to school outside of the village".
"Nonetheless, for many of the parents, the mixed pupil population currently at Seaview PS represented an opportunity to move towards integrated status or a jointly managed faith school and it was perceived that school staff and governors also recognised the sustainability potential of this option."