Northern Ireland

Under-threat Co Tyrone primary school plans to welcome new pupils as closure plan put on hold

DUP MLA Deborah Erskine with pupils of St Mary's Primary School in Fivemiletown.
DUP MLA Deborah Erskine with pupils of St Mary's Primary School in Fivemiletown.

A PRIMARY school in Co Tyrone has said it plans to welcome new pupils in September following an investigation into closure plans that caused uproar in the rural community.

St Mary’s Primary School in Fivemiletown faced closure in August after the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) deemed it unsustainable.

A consultation on closing the school - which has 42 pupils - closed at the end of April, while MLAs including Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill backed a campaign to keep it open.

Hundreds of people turned out for a protest in Fivemiletown against the closure plan in March, while thousands of objections were submitted to the Department for Education.

Although the number of pupils rose from 27 in 2019, the school remains below the 105-pupil sustainability threshold for rural primaries.

St Mary's board of governors member and parent Mairaid Kelly said the Education Authority has now begun an investigation into the closure plan, meaning no decision will be taken within the timescale set out by the CCMS.

“We are delighted to finally be able to confirm to parents and children in our local community that St Mary’s Fivemiletown will be back in September doing what we do best, and that’s providing high quality education," she said.

Read more: Pressure mounts to withdraw Co Tyrone primary school closure proposal

"We will also be welcoming a new intake of children to Primary 1, as our school continues to go from strength to strength, in spite of this lingering threat to our long-term survival.

"The reality is this - if CCMS’ case to close our school by August 31 was robust, we wouldn’t now be in a situation where there are processes ongoing to determine whether it was ever an appropriate decision to recommend us for closure in the first place."

Ms Kelly said an additional classroom would be opening to accommodate rising pupil numbers in the new term.

Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew said: “It’s a significant credit to the entire school community that St Mary’s is in such a strong position to be welcoming new children and increasing its capacity from next September. That doesn’t just happen; small schools threatened with closure usually see their enrolments fall away as people lose confidence in them.

"The exact opposite is happening here, and that in itself should be a strong signal to those who are making decisions that this school is valued and valuable."

Fellow Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, the DUP's Deborah Erskine, said: “Preparing for your child to start school for the first time should be an enjoyable experience, and for many parents in Fivemiletown there has been a question mark in their mind as to whether St Mary’s would be there for them in September. I’m so pleased they now have that certainty, but it’s incredibly important that the long term position is confirmed as a matter of urgency."

The Education Authority and Department for Education have been approached for comment.