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29 Northern Ireland schools facing axe, says leaked document

The number of post-primary schools in the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) could be slashed by more than half, a leaked document says.

A copy of the board’s area plan — leaked to the Ballymena Guardian — has suggested reducing the number of secondary level schools from 49 to 20, with Ballymena most affected by the changes.

The NEELB wants to ensure schools have at least 500 pupils, are getting good results and are not in debt.

Currently there are 3,086 spare places, however the area plan states that surplus capacity would be eliminated if the new proposals were implemented.

In terms of enrolment, 20 schools fail to meet the 500 threshold for years eight to 12 and 14 schools currently have a sixth form which falls below the sustainable level of 100.

In financial terms, 19 schools are showing signs of stress.

Education Minister John O’Dowd has instructed individual education boards to put forward suggestions to help the Department of Education alleviate financial pressures.

A strategic plan submitted by the Ballymena Learning Together (BLT) group has suggested closing Cambridge House and Ballee Community High School in a bid to alleviate financial pressures in the NEELB area.

South Antrim MLA Danny Kinahan, the new deputy chair of the Stormont education committee, said parents were worried.

“Parents are already deeply concerned due to the area planning exercise and this news will merely heighten fears,” he said.

“I will be seeking an urgent meeting with both the board and the Education Minister to seek clarification of this situation.”

Meanwhile, the NEELB said it was delighted at the response from schools, but stressed that no decisions had been made.

A board spokesman said the leaked document was a draft and that final decisions were up to the minister.

Background

Last year Cambridge House became Northern Ireland's first grammar school to enter the Department of Education's formal intervention process. The failing Ballymena school was rapped for “inadequate” standards in sixth form provision. If a school has not exited the process in two years, the department can restructure or replace management, merge or close the school.

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