Northern Ireland news

ANALYSIS: Closing school in large centre of population is risky

Movilla High School in Newtownards. Picture by Mal McCann

THERE'S little doubt Movilla has had its struggles but is working to become better.

In the last five years, exam results have improved - from 18 to 81 per cent achieving five good GCSEs.

Year 8 numbers have jumped from 30 to 48 and will be higher again in September.

While in formal intervention, it has received support to address issues. Only industrial action by teachers across the north is delaying its exit.

It must feel that it is being attacked on all fronts.

Decisions to boost enrolments have benefited every other post-primary school around and made its fight more challenging.

About five miles up the road, Bangor Academy was given loads of extra places last year, then 40 more this, then a further 15.

Regent House, a grammar school, was handed 30 extra places - 30 extra places for children whose 11-plus grades would otherwise not have been enough to get them across the line.

The plan is to give it even more again, to make the extra 30 an annual arrangement, which means simply it will be able to trawl deeper to fill its places.

Down the peninsula, Glastry was given a modest increase. To cope with a planned 900 pupils, it would need a new build, ideally on its current site.

The minutes of the EA education committee note the "relocation of Glastry", however. Glastry is a townland and re-locating it would essentially make it a new school - no longer Glastry. That school might yet end up in Ards itself.

It has been proposed Movilla closes in 2024. Typically the end date is not so far into the future. Allowing it to effectively wither on the vine for four years seems harsh.

At a recent area planning briefing, it was put to EA officials that shutting a school experiencing difficulties was not always the best option.

The example of Dundonald High was raised. It found itself in similar position but was spared closure, allowed to turn around and is now thriving.

There is no doubt there needs to be an effective solution for educating children in Ards and north Down.

The EA will need to be confident that removing a school with plenty of desks in a large centre of population does not backfire.

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