Northern Ireland news

Border school facing closure for third time

St Mary's High School in Fermanagh has been proposed for closure in 2020

A RURAL secondary school is again facing closure after officials rejected a cross border model that might save it.

It has been proposed St Mary's High School in Brollagh, Co Fermanagh shut next year.

An option to establish an integrated school on the site remains on the table.

While pupil numbers are considerably lower than necessary to be considered sustainable, accessibility is a major issue for children.

If St Mary's shut, pupils would have to travel into Enniskillen even though the school is less than two miles from Donegal.

It had been proposed that it close in 2015, however, then education minister John O'Dowd went against his advisors and rejected this.

He encouraged consideration of a partnership with post-primary schools in Co Donegal. Previous attempts at finding cross-border solutions failed.

A second closure plan was withdrawn in 2017.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has now brought forward a third bid after considering, and dismissing, cross-border options.

To collaborate with schools in the Republic, CCMS said, would require transport, high quality IT infrastructure to support delivery of courses and an agreed curriculum for all pupils across two systems.

"There are significant challenges to achieving alignment across two jurisdictions in the following areas: curriculum; assessment; qualifications (no equivalency to GCSE); management structure; IT; timetabling; safeguarding; and staffing arrangements," CCMS found.

"The number of pupils available locally remains well below the sustainability threshold and the financial position is unlikely to improve.

"Substantial investment would be required from both jurisdictions, in order to allow the model to operate and to provide the infrastructure required. CCMS carried out investigations on the potential for the delivery of a successful cross-border option. DE reviewed this proposal, and confirmed: a cross border approach would not meet the educational quality thresholds, nor would such an approach be cost effective."

Parents fighting to save the school have backed joining the integrated sector.

An action group submitted a letter to governors stating its intention to commence the statutory process of transforming St Mary's to an integrated school. The letter contained the support of more than 20 per cent of parents, the minimum required to kickstart transformation.

"CCMS's proposal does not pose a risk to the progress of an integrated option. It is necessary for St Mary's HS to close in advance of the transformation to an integrated school," CCMS added.

"Discussion, regarding issues such as the use of the site and buildings, would commence if the development proposal for the transformation to an integrated school was to succeed."

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