Northern Ireland news

Saintfield school with 17 students set to close

St Mary's Primary School, Picture: Google Earth
Matt Fox

A SMALL primary school where pupil numbers have fallen to 17 has been approved for closure.

St Mary's PS in Saintfield, Co Down will close on August 31.

The school was first established in 1873 and in 1964 relocated to its current site on the Old Grand Jury Road.

Pupil numbers at St Mary’s have dwindled over the years, with zero pupils having been admitted to P1 over the last five academic years.

Total pupil numbers have fallen from 49 in 2017/18 to just 17 for 2021/22.

The approved proposal outlined that pupil numbers have been significantly below the Department of Education's minimum enrolment of 105 pupils for a sustainable rural primary school.

It has also experienced financial difficulty in recent years and remains in a deficit.

Three alternative Catholic-maintained primary schools can be found within a five mile radius of St Mary’s and the department said it did not anticipate any significant travel costs for pupils.

Its sustainable schools policy argues that teachers in small, rural schools face less professional interaction and that pupils are unlikely to be catered for with extra-curricular activities. It had also been suggested that smaller year groups limits the opportunity for social interactions and co-working relationships.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said that she was “disappointed” by the decision but, given the circumstances was “content” with the recommendation.

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