Bid to save St Mary’s school from closure

Bid to save St Mary’s school from closure

6 October 2021

GOVERNORS and staff have pledged to try and save a primary school in Saintfield from closure. 

St Mary’s Primary School is earmarked to close by August 31 next year due to low pupil numbers.

The Education Authority last week published the closure proposal seeking any objections or support to be lodged by November 30.

The proposal was made by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) on behalf of the school’s trustees.

It states enrolment to the 148 year-old school on the Old Grand Jury Road has dwindled to 22 pupils for this academic year, with the majority in the Primary 6 and 7 classes.

The proposal claims there is currently only one pupil in the school’s Primary 1, 3 and 5 classes, two pupils in Primary 4 and no pupils in Primary 2. 

A spokesperson for CCMS said: “CCMS has carried out initial consultation on the closure of St Mary’s Primary School in Saintfield, which is a Down and Connor diocesan school. Further stages of the consultation process with EA are currently underway.

“The school currently has 16 pupils with capacity in neighbouring catholic maintained schools to support the continued provision for the pupils should the Minister approve the closure.”

It says St Mary’s is operating with five year groups in a single composite class and a further year group in two other classrooms.

Over the past five years, the school’s enrolment numbers have fluctuated between 61 and 33.

The EA say these statistics show no indication that numbers will increase to 105 pupils required by Department of Education Sustainable Schools Policy for rural schools.

However, while the school’s governors, staff and parents/guardians were informed of the closure proposal last spring, a statement issued by the school yesterday indicated they opposed the closure.

It read: “Governors and parents have a great confidence in the educational provision that St  Mary’s provides for our children. 

“Our most recent ETI (Education Training Inspectorate) report found education at St Mary’s to be of a good standard and our pastoral care has always been outstanding.  

“St Mary’s is an innovative school with new sensory and nurture rooms. These additional resources enhance the excellent education provision on offer to pupils.    

“The school community takes great pride nurturing our pupils’ talents and interests and we will continue to do so.   

“Governors and staff are of the view that our school is a vital part of the Saintfield community and we are continuing with efforts to see that it will remain so for future generations.”

The EA said in its report it investigated other options, such as becoming a shared or integrated education and amalgamation with other schools, but concluded that closure was recommended as there was no evidence “any other option considered could provide sustainable provision”.

It added: “CCMS recognises the commitment of the governors and staff but the current challenging circumstances do not provide for a sustainable school. 

“It is recognised that despite the school’s best efforts, it continues to face sustainability challenges. CCMS believes that the proposal to discontinue provision at St Mary’s PS would not impact significantly on other schools.”

It lists other Catholic primary schools in the area — St Caolan’s in Darragh Cross, St Joseph’s in Crossgar, and St Patrick’s in Ballynahinch — as being between less than four to seven miles away from St Mary’s and which could take its pupils.

The proposal also said closure plans had been put back for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The SDLP councillor for the area, Cllr Terry Andrews, said he shared the concerns of parents and staff.

“St Mary’s has provided first-class education to the community for many, many years and the staff are to be commended for their dedication to generations of families who have sent their children there,” he said.

“I would encourage all local people to take part in the consultation to the EA and make them aware of their strong feelings to the proposal.”