Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Catholic school which voted for integration could be shut instead

Under threat: a consultation on the future of Clintyclay Primary School on the Armagh/Tyrone border will finish tomorrow

The first Catholic school to seek to become integrated should learn this week if a plan to close it instead goes ahead, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

A consultation on the future of Clintyclay Primary School, which sits on the Armagh/Tyrone border, ends tomorrow. Then the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools (CCMS) will bring its plans before the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) in Armagh on Wednesday.

It is expected that CCMS will advance its plan to close the school and a development proposal for closure will be published before the end of the month.

An SELB spokesman said: "The board has received a development proposal for closure of Clintyclay Primary School from CCMS as the managing authority.

"This is following normal process. No other development proposal has been received at this time in respect of Clintyclay Primary School."

However, the publication of a development proposal for closure would not sound the death knell for Clintyclay Primary School as the process to transform it from a Catholic maintained school to an integrated school, which is already under way, can run parallel.

Although the SELB has not yet received a development proposal from the Board of Governors of Clintyclay for transformation, sources have said it is in the pipeline.

CCMS has said the 30-pupil school is unviable. However, its numbers have remained steady and the school is financially viable and the quality of education was rated by inspectors as very good.

It has also emerged that there is a demand for integrated education in the area that Clintyclay serves.

According to SELB figures, the only oversubscribed sector in the Dungannon District Council area, under which Clintyclay falls, is integrated. In fact the Catholic maintained sector has the highest amount of unfilled spaces – 1,323 – which is more than three times that of the controlled sector.

There is just one integrated primary school, Windmill Integrated, which has not only increased its enrolment year-on-year but is still oversubscribed.

In 2009/10 its enrolment was 202 pupils, climbing to 203, 205, 215 and now stands at 233 – despite its approved enrolment being 210 pupils. Noreen Campbell, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, said: "Windmill Integrated Primary is massively oversubscribed. Dungannon is one of the few areas where we have a growing population of young children.

"Therefore the question is, if Clintyclay as it exists is unsustainable, is it sustainable by becoming integrated and welcoming to all? We think it is."

Clintyclay has already started its transformation journey after 100% of parents backed proposals for it to become integrated earlier this month.

The independent voting process was overseen and validated by the Electoral Reform Service.

The landmark move dealt a significant blow to the centuries-old tradition of Catholic education.

It is also a ringing endorsement for the integrated sector, which has never seen a Catholic school transform since the first integrated school opened here more than 30 years ago.

Ms Campbell added: "This is the first time a Catholic school has gone for transformation. That is really significant. It underlies that entitlement exists for Catholic schools who might not have been aware of it. It makes it clear any Catholic school can use this right."

The unprecedented move means the decision is left to Education Minister John O'Dowd.

Questions and answers

Q. So what exactly is transformation?

A. A process which involves a school changing its status to become integrated. Alongside this, the school develops its ethos to ensure the school is recognised as being open and welcoming to all pupils.

Q. Can any school become integrated?

A. Yes, with the exception of a special school, a school in a hospital and a school for which the department has approved a proposal for closure.

Q. How many integrated schools are there?

A. There are 42 primary and 20 post-primary schools.

Q. How many schools have become integrated via transformation?

A. Since 1991, 22 schools have transformed to integrated.

Q. Has any Catholic school transformed?

A. No, Clintyclay is the first to hold a vote

Q. How long does the transformation process take?

A. It can take less than a year or more than three.

Q. How does the process start?

A. The formal process begins when the Board of Governors – or at least 20% of parents – request a ballot.

Q. What happens after a ballot for transformation?

A. At least 50% of parents must vote for the result to be considered. If most back transformation, a development proposal for transformation must be submitted to the education board. It will advertise and there will be a two-month consultation.

Q. Who decides if it will be allowed to transform?

A. The final decision rests with the minister for education.

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