Four Tyrone Catholic schools to close
FOUR small primary schools in rural Co Tyrone are to be shut as part of a shake-up of Catholic education.
Altishane PS, Loughash PS, St Patrick's PS and St Joseph's PS will make way for a new 133 pupil primary school from September.
The proposal, which was approved by Department of Education permanent secretary Derek Baker, will "in effect require the closure of the four schools".
They all serve the area of Dunamanagh/Leckpatrick in north Tyrone.
A case for change report said the plan would address a pattern of low admissions and enrolments at each school to achieve a more sustainable future for Catholic primary education in the area.
A previous proposal to bring together three of the schools was rejected by former DUP education minister Peter Weir.
St Joseph's PS, Glenmornan opted out of that plan but was included in the fresh proposal.
It objected, however, arguing the case for change contained factual errors, was simply a "cut and paste approach" to modifying the previous rejected bid and failed to explore "innovative area solutions".
Numbers are low at the schools. There were just 11 pupils at Altishane and fewer than 40 in each of the other three. Rural schools are required to have at least 105 pupils to be considered sustainable.
All four have composite classes with more than three year groups within the same classroom.
Mr Baker said the proposal presented a substantial package of potential change with significant implications for pupils, staff, parents and community.
"I am very mindful of the sensitivities and emotions surrounding proposals to close any school facility," he said.
"I have noted also the somewhat complex history of this set of proposals and the fact that decision-making on them has been protracted. It is important therefore that clarity on the way ahead for these schools is provided as quickly as possible."