Northern Ireland news

North Belfast Irish language college plans made public

Croí Éanna is building a community hall on Hightown Road, which will house the new school campus

PLANS for a new Irish language college campus to cope with increasing demand have been made public.

Coláiste Feirste in west Belfast wants to increase its annual admission number from 100 to 130 pupils with a phased increase in its overall enrolment from 600 to 850.

It hopes to do this by opening a satellite campus in the north of the city next year.

Details have been released by the Education Authority (EA) ahead of a consultation.

Coláiste Feirste is at capacity. Governors devised the campus plan in response to "clear and continuing growth in demand for places in the school" which it was not possible to accommodate on the current Beechmount site.

A dual site at St Enda's GAA club, and adjacent to Gaelscoil Éanna, is the preferred option, according to a `case for change' document published by the EA.

The case for change outlines the background and reasons for the proposal as well as supporting arguments from school governors.

There are only two standalone Irish language post-primary schools in the north - Coláiste Feirste and Gaelcholáiste Dhoire in Dungiven.

At present, more than 100 pupils from north Belfast receive financial support to travel by bus to Coláiste Feirste.

The Ardoyne and Cliftonville areas fall short of the usual three-mile cut-off for free bus passes, meaning without support, parents would have to pay for two buses - one into town and one out - or walk through notorious sectarian flashpoint areas.

Establishing a north Belfast site, the case for change says, offers improved accessibility to pupils from three feeder primary schools when compared to their current journey.

Various options were explored by governors who concluded that the best was to locate the new campus on the site owned by St Enda's GAA.

Croí Éanna, a voluntary Irish language support group, is building a community hall on Hightown Road, which is due to open next year.

The first floor will have three rooms large enough to be used as classrooms.

The campus would be staffed by teachers from Coláiste Feirste and an experienced `head of school' would be appointed.

It would admit Year 8 pupils only in its first year.

"Expanding the physical capacity of the school in another area of Belfast would reduce the accommodation pressure on the school on the main Beechmount site while allowing pupils access to the proven high-quality education offered by Coláiste Feirste," governors said.

"It would also be a lower risk approach to the establishment, in the longer term, of a stand-alone, second Irish medium post primary school in Belfast, as envisaged in the area plan for Irish-medium education.

"In line with the area plan, north Belfast was considered to be the optimum location for additional provision. The area has three vibrant and growing primary schools which could provide adequate pupil numbers for two form classes each year."

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