Irish schools body objected to unit gaining extra pupils
A BODY for Irish language education objected to the awarding of extra places for one of its own schools.
The Irish-medium unit of St Brigid's PS in Tirkane, Co Derry is to gain 34 additional spaces from September.
The plan was opposed by Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG), however, in what was described as an "unusual case".
It instead favoured the creation of a standalone Irish school.
St Brigid's PS is a Catholic primary school with an Irish-medium unit known as Bunscoil Naomh Bríd.
It was established in 2001 with 45 children but the unit has outgrown its host school - it now has 127 pupils compared to 78.
The approval of the development proposal allows the school to admit up to 245 pupils - 154 into the Irish unit.
Enrolments at St Brigid's have been growing year on year with the most significant growth evidenced within the unit.
It is situated in a designated Gaeltacht area in which a strong ethos and tradition of Irish language and culture has been developed.
CnaG, as the sectoral support body for Irish-medium schools, wrote to the Education Authority and department during the consultation period.
It said it considered the proposal was not an appropriate way forward in securing the proper strategic development of Irish-medium education in the greater Maghera area.
Instead it asked that the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) undertake a "methodical, area planning approach in agreement with CnaG that will properly meet the needs of IM education".
CnaG chief executive Liam Ó Flannagáin wrote that there were concerns the unit was being used to prop-up the English-medium host school.
"CnaG believe that it is not desirable (nor logical) for a 6 or 7-class unit to be bolted on to a small EM school and that it should be operated and managed strategically as an IM school in its own right," he said.
"CnaG is aware that the CCMS and the school have real concerns about the viability of the English-medium section of the school and that this appears to be framing their approach to the management and development of the unit and the reluctance to consider the proper strategic development of the IM sector within the area."
CCMS said it was aware that CnaG had advocated that any increase should be accommodated through establishment of a free-standing school.
However, it maintained that the proposed growth in the unit "meets both their statutory duties and the immediate need to accommodate growth in IM provision".
Department permanent secretary Derek Baker approved the proposal.
"This is a somewhat unusual case, complicated by the contrasting positions on the proposal adopted by CCMS and CnaG.
"I am, however, persuaded by the arguments that approving the proposal would facilitate the apparent growth in demand for Irish-medium primary provision in the area, whilst not precluding the potential development of a different, longer term solution for Irish-medium primary provision in due course.
"The CnaG preference would carry with it a number of consequences that could militate against supporting short term growth in such provision."