Northern Ireland’s second city is set to see Catholics educated on one side of the river and Protestants on the other in a new sectarian split in education, an Assembly member has said.
The only Catholic secondary school in the Waterside area of Londonderry has been dealt a devastating blow after it emerged a quarter of the teaching staff will go at the end of this school year.
Immaculate Conception College has been under threat of closure but was was granted a reprieve in 2012.
But as pupil numbers continue to dwindle its future hangs in the balance. The final decision lies with the Education Minister.
The SDLP’s Pat Ramsey has supported campaigners fighting to keep it open and said he will demand answers from the minister, John O’Dowd.
“Closing this college will effectively mean that Catholic education takes place on one side of the river Foyle while Protestant children are educated on the other side of the Foyle and that is not what anyone wants,” the Foyle MLA said.
“There is a lot of anger that teachers are to be made redundant, and it gives rise to more questions than answers as the school has been marked for closure by the Council For Catholic Maintained Schools.”
Mr Ramsey questioned why the jobs cuts were being made after Mr O’Dowd announced there
would be no drop in school budgets this year. It followed controversy over his new funding policy of increasing budgets for schools with high rates of free school meals.
“The minister assured the Assembly only a few weeks ago that no school would see a cut in its funding for the next year. So questions must now be asked as to why Immaculate Conception finds itself in this situation, and what relevance does it have to the obvious intention of CCMS that the school be closed.”
While Foyle College still has two campuses at Springtown and Duncreggan, it will move to a purpose-built school in the Waterside in the near future.
Recently campaigners from Save Immaculate Conception College wrote to Fr Michael Canny, parish priest and school board member, warning of the deepening religious divide in Derry education.
“We believe this move will serve to further polarise the communities, which are already perceived to be divided by the River Foyle. If this closure proceeds, children choosing a Catholic education in line with their religious faith will be placed on one side of the city and those choosing a Protestant or integrated education placed in the Waterside area,” they wrote.
Brendan Herron, senior official with the Irish National Teachers’ Union, said his priority now is to get the four redundant teachers redeployed by September 1.