D-Day for school poised to blaze trail for integration
A Catholic school could learn within weeks whether or not it has a future as an integrated school.
Clintyclay Primary School in the heart of the Co Tyrone countryside is the first Catholic school to apply for transformation in the 30 years of integrated education.
A public consultation on the future of Clintyclay Primary closed yesterday afternoon. Only the Education Minister John O'Dowd now stands in the way of history.
However, in an unprecedented situation, Mr O'Dowd has two development proposals to consider in relation to Clintyclay – one from the school's board of governors to transform the school to integrated; the other from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) to close the small rural school in August 2015.
As no Catholic school has ever sought permission from an education minister to transform, integrated education campaigners believe that if Mr O'Dowd approves the development proposal, it could pave the way for other Catholic schools to follow suit.
One of the reasons CCMS is seeking the school's closure is because it has less than 30 pupils – well below the department's figure of 105 in its sustainable schools' policy. In May, 100% of parents at Clintyclay backed moves for the school to become integrated.
Gerard Cunningham, chairman of the school's board of governors, also revealed that the plans to open the school to pupils from all backgrounds has already attracted new pupils. He said: "Six new P1s are coming in, two are a direct result of the integrated approach."
Mr Cunningham believes there are "a lot of good reasons" why the minister should secure Clintyclay's future as an integrated school where pupils from both sides of the community will be taught side-by-side.
"There's a need within the community. There's no integrated schools within the local radius of Clintyclay."
There is only one other integrated school in the same council area, Windmill Integrated in Dungannon, which has to turn pupils away because of its popularity.
The chief executive of the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) is hoping the minister will give the green light to Clintyclay. Tina Merron said: "The development proposal by Clintyclay to transform to integrated status reflects the growing demand for children to be taught side by side in the same classroom.
"The fact that a Catholic maintained school is pursuing transformation shows the readiness of all communities to embrace more creative and innovative approaches to school planning."
It will not be an easy decision for the minister but under Article 64 of the 1989 Education Reform Order, Mr O'Dowd has a duty to encourage and facilitate integrated education.