Education news

Plans to merge two north Belfast schools will reduce number of single-sex primaries in NI to three

Our Lady’s Girls Primary School. Picture by Hugh Russell
Suzanne McGonagle

A PROPOSED merger of two north Belfast schools will reduce the total number of single-sex primaries in Northern Ireland to just three.

Plans have been submitted for a new co-educational primary school which would involve the effective amalgamation of Our Lady's Girls PS and Sacred Heart Boys PS.

It would open as early as September 2024.

The development proposal by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), on behalf of the trustees of the Down and Connor Diocese, to the Education Authority (EA), seeks to "discontinue" the two single-sex schools by August 31 next year.

While it is likely to attract some opposition, CCMS said an amalgamated co-educational school was "considered the best option to secure the long-term viability of Catholic maintained education in the area".

If given the go ahead, the merger will further reduce the number of single-sex primary schools in Northern Ireland.

There are only five remaining, not including prep departments, and all of them serve neighbouring parishes in north Belfast.

In addition to Our Lady's and Sacred Heart, there are Holy Cross Boys, Holy Cross Girls and Mercy PS.

Edmund Rice for boys and Star of the Sea for girls, also in north Belfast, merged to form St Patrick's PS a decade ago.

Located less than a mile apart, with Our Lady's Girls' PS at Deanby Gardens and Sacred Heart Boys at Oldpark Avenue, it has been suggested the new school could initially operate over both sites, "but ideally moving to one site in a timely fashion".

It would have an annual admission number of 58 and an overall enrolment number of 406, however, it remains unclear where it would be based.

A CCMS spokeswoman last night confirmed it had "submitted a 'case for change' to the EA to establish co-educational provision in the Sacred Heart Parish to sustain and enhance the high quality provision in the area".

"CCMS encourage the school community to continue engage with the consultation process," she added.

In its 'case for change' document, CCMS said a review of future primary education provision in the Sacred Heart area had been ongoing since December 2018.

A proposal to amalgamate Our Lady's and Sacred Heart was agreed in December 2021 as "all parties considered it the most effective and desirable arrangement for the introduction of co-educational primary education for the area and ensuring sustainable future enrolment numbers".

The document adds that the proposal is "focused on the challenges facing the area, such as population changes, the introduction of co-education and the best way to address the educational needs of the area".

It also states that the merger would create "a 14-class base school (391-420) school with a two-stream entry would provide a sustainable enrolment figure for the Sacred Heart area".

"A review of the schools 2021-24 financial plans suggests that one of the two schools will face a significant financial deficit by 2023/24," the document states.

"An amalgamation of the two schools to one co-educational school would secure the financial viability of Catholic maintained primary education provision in the Sacred Heart Area over the longer-term."

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