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Head fears her school could close if funding shake-up goes ahead

By Anna Maguire

The principal of a school battling social and educational disadvantage has warned it could shut if Government funding cuts are approved.

St Anthony's Primary School in Larne is the first school to confirm that a controversial funding shake-up could result in its closure.

Carol McLarnon is already facing the possibility of making one teacher redundant next year if the school loses £17,767 annually, as is estimated.

Five teachers work there, including herself, with pupils from primary four to seven sharing two combined classes.

"I am going to lose teachers and we will have to look at classroom assistants. There could be a possible redundancy next year of a teacher. Our budget is okay at the minute, so yes, this will have a profound effect," she said.

The head is fearful of a domino effect setting in.

"If there's not enough teachers it means we will have three composite classes.

"And then, when you have other schools in the area and parents choose not to send their children to a school where there's composite classes, that has the knock-on effect that we are not getting pupil intake – which means our numbers fall below 80 and we are no longer a sustainable school. Then we could face closure."

Education Minister John O'Dowd says he wants to break the ingrained link between pupils' social disadvantage and poor academic prospects by re-directing funding to Northern Ireland's most deprived schools, at the expense of hundreds of others.

Concerns that speaking out could affect future pupil numbers has held Ms McLarnon back until now.

"Closure is a possibility for all small schools, including ourselves. It was for the voice of all the small schools that we have spoken."

Gerry McVeigh, principal of St Colman's Primary School, in Lambeg, has warned that the funding shake-up will sound the "death-knell for a hell of a lot of small, rural schools".

St Anthony's Primary already struggles with social deprivation.

Half of its 81 pupils are on the special educational needs register, which includes children struggling with numeracy and literacy issues or undiagnosed health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The school, which saw its largest recent intake of new pupils in September, will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.

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