Northern Ireland news

Pressure mounts to withdraw Co Tyrone primary school closure proposal

A campaign is underway to prevent the closure of a St Mary's Primary School in Fivemiletown, Co Tyrone
Paul Ainsworth

PRESSURE is mounting on the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) to scrap plans to shut a rural Co Tyrone primary school, with claims the closure would be a "great blow" to the community.

The CCMS has proposed closing St Mary's Primary School in Fivemiletown, which has 42 pupils, in August as it has been deemed unsustainable.

A consultation process is underway on the closure proposal, but MLAs have called for the plan to be withdrawn as it is expected pupil numbers will continue to rise as housing provision in the area increases.

The number of pupils rose from 27 in 2019, but remains below the 105 sustainability threshold for rural primaries.

Parish priest and St Mary's Board of Governors member, Fr Brendan Gallagher, said CCMS must take on board opposition to the closure, including from the Bishop of Clogher, Liam Duffy.

Fr Gallagher said St Mary's, which takes part in shared education classes with the controlled Fivemiletown Primary School, was "central to the survival of our parish church into the future"

"It is a vibrant school in which I've seen countless children flourish," he said.

"The longstanding shared education partnership with Fivemiletown Primary School is evidence of a commitment to improving community relations, and the proposal to close this well-loved school would indeed be a great blow to our local community.

"CCMS have failed to engage in any meaningful way with me, in my role as a local Trustee, at any stage in this process."

Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew said: "There has been a steady increase of enrolment at St Mary's over the last number of years, with many new families moving into the area.

"Fivemiletown has also experienced a spike in housing demand over the last three years, with as many as 381 housing units being built and 717 others waiting to reach completion.

"I am informed that St Mary's can currently demonstrate its sustainability against almost all the criteria within the Sustainable Schools Policy, including academic standards, leadership and management, accessibility and strong links with the community."

DUP assembly member Deborah Erskine said the closure proposal was "shameful".

"Rural schools provide a nurturing environment which produce high educational outcomes. It should not just come down to figures on a page," she said.

"There should be a holistic approach, recognising the needs of the children behind the statistics.

"St Mary's punches above its weight in achieving high educational outcomes and provision in the area."

Speaking of the closure proposal, made through the Education Authority, a CCMS spokesperson said: "The consultation was reviewed by the CCMS Education Provision Committee, who approved that the proposal should progress to the next stage of the process.

"The EA has conducted a consultation with affected schools in advance of the publication of a Development Proposal alongside a two-month statutory objection period.

"CCMS would encourage all interested parties to continue to engage with the statutory process under way, in advance of any final decision."

An online petition to save the school can be signed at www.

Northern Ireland news