Irish school plan for former Derry army base turned down

The preferred site was the former base at Ebrington on Derry's waterside

A PLAN to open an Irish language college on the site of a former army barracks has been rejected.

An Bradán Feasa, which translates as 'the salmon of knowledge', wanted a new "all-ability, co-educational, multi-denominational" Irish-medium school.

It was hoped it would welcome pupils in September and its preferred site was the former base at Ebrington on Derry's waterside.

It was envisaged it would open with 26 children, increasing incrementally to achieve a long-term enrolment of 400. They would be drawn from four Irish language primaries in Derry and Strabane.

The proposing committee said there was "a high level of demand".

The plan was turned down, however, with Department of Education officials saying "overall, there is no robust evidence to suggest that the proposed new post-primary school would attract sufficient pupil numbers to be sustainable".

A report by department officials pointed out that Gaelcholáiste Dhoire in Dungiven offered full immersion in Irish in a standalone setting, similar to what was proposed by An Bradán Feasa.

The report showed that 12 of the 43 P7 children in Irish-medium schools in the area transferred to Gaelcholáiste Dhoire while seven went to St Brigid's College. The rest attended English-medium schools.

While Derry has no recognised post-primary Irish-medium provision, St Brigid's is known to have operated an unrecognised stream educating Year 8-10 pupils. Last year a separate proposal to establish an official unit at St Brigid's was turned down.

The Education and Training Inspectorate said it did not support the latest bid, stating that two such schools in the area was "currently not sustainable, particularly in terms of recruitment of specialist IM teachers across the range of subjects and in turn, breadth of curriculum offer for pupils".

It further said: "It would appear sensible to build upon the good quality of provision in Gaelcholáiste Dhoire, Dungiven, with a view to building capacity for that region. To establish another IM post-primary school too soon may compromise the very good achievements and standards and the very good leadership and management in Gaelcholáiste Dhoire."

Department officials agreed that "no evidence has been provided to show that two IM post-primary providers located within circa 20 miles of each other and reliant on admitting a majority of pupils from a relatively small cohort of IM primary schools, would both be able to achieve future sustainability and viability".

An Bradán Feasa said it planned to fight the decision.

"This is solely an educational issue and is about giving parents a choice of the most appropriate form of education for those pupils who have just spent seven years in a total immersion setting," the group said.

"The educational needs of over 400 children attending the four Irish language primary schools in Derry City and Strabane have been ignored."

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