Northern Ireland news

School with no pupils to close permanently

The present Tír na nÓg PS was officially opened in 1973

A SMALL school that re-opened this year with no pupils is to be shut down permanently.

The Department of Education said there was "no alternative" to closing Tír na nÓg PS in Ballyclare.

It will be wound up in January next year, months earlier than originally proposed.

It becomes the twentieth school approved for closure or merger by civil servants since the collapse of the executive in 2017.

The present Tír na nÓg PS was officially opened in 1973 and replaced a school that had been built in 1886.

Pupil numbers had been in decline for some time and plummeted after its sustainability was first highlighted.

It was among the schools listed in Education Authority's annual action plan in 2018/19.

Then, its total enrolment was 17 with no pupils admitted to P1. There were 60 empty desks.

It was proposed that the school should close down in August of next year.

However, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) confirmed in September that there were no longer any pupils enrolled.

Even before it reopened in September with no pupils, CCMS argued keeping it open was not a feasible option.

There would be pressure on staff to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum, to mixed aged classes, while its budget deficit was increasing, the council said.

CCMS also considered different models including shared education, federation and amalgamation, but ruled these out.

It also looked at whether it could be transformed into an integrated school, as it was already mixed in terms of nationalities and faith. Of those who remained in the school last year, six identified as Protestant, seven as Catholic and four as other.

A case for change document said, however, there was no evidence of sufficient demand for integrated education in the area, or that there would be a sufficient number of pupils who were Catholic to establish an integrated school.

The schools' governors said they were disappointed that the decision would leave Ballyclare without provision for the Catholic maintained sector.

Department Permanent Secretary Derek Baker confirmed the school would be discontinued earlier than had been recommended.

"Such proposals are often very difficult. This case is different," Mr Baker said.

"In light of the circumstances of the school in terms of enrolment and admissions numbers described so starkly there is no alternative to closure of the school."

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