Education news

Integrated school's approved move `creating tensions'

The former Knockbreda High School in south Belfast

SUPPORT for an integrated primary's move to a new location is creating tension among neighbouring schools, it has been warned.

The Department of Education has approved a plan for Forge IPS to move onto the former Knockbreda High School site in south Belfast.

The project will be awarded £7.5 million of Fresh Start Agreement money.

Forge IPS opened in 1985 and has grown in recent years. Former education minister John O'Dowd approved a proposal to increase numbers to 420, however, this cannot be done on its current site.

It has addressed accommodation issues by converting a library and resource rooms into classrooms, as well as installing two mobiles.

The school said its accommodation needs were dire, the classrooms cramped "and every nook and cranny is over utilised".

While neighbouring schools said they had no issue with the move, many objected to the choice of site during a consultation.

Parents of children at St Bernard's said their school was heavily oversubscribed and "in dire need of investment having been built in 1958".

Governors of Knockbreda PS said too much priority was given to Forge's accommodation problems and not the impact of its relocation.

It created "an immediate tension with three existing schools".

"We believe with the advantage of a new school Forge IPS will be able to attract pupils irrespective of its integrated status."

They added the move "could effectively amount to a controlled school being sacrificed".

Belvoir Park PS agreed it created tension "with a considerable number of schools with similar and indeed same provision".

Knockbreda Nursery, Orangefield PS and Lisnasharragh PS also objected.

The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education welcomed the move as a "first stage".

"This then opens up options for a second stage with a possible shared campus, using Fresh Start Agreement money, to develop facilities which could be used by all schools on the site," the council said.

"NICIE recognises that re-location may not be ideal, in that it causes disruption to everyone concerned, however it does allow Forge to grow appropriately and presents opportunities which should be grasped by all."

The Education Authority suggested a shared campus, noting there was a history of collaboration between Knockbreda PS, St Bernard's PS and Knockbreda Nursery.

Department officials said it would be unreasonable to delay the Forge move as there was no application for any specific shared campus project.

They added: "It should be noted however that a key criteria of the (shared education campus) is a history of sharing. There is no evidence presented to indicate that Forge IPS has been involved in any previous sharing although the other schools on the site enjoy close links."

Approving the plan, department permanent secretary Derek Baker said the requirement for a relocation was a natural outworking of the previous decision to increase numbers.

"The options for relocation are limited, and the former Knockbreda High School site would appear to be the most feasible option," he said.

"I note the objections to this proposal, not least those relating to traffic issues, and it will be important for such matters to be addressed as part of the planning approval process."

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