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Northern Ireland school failures list ‘adding to stress’

Publication of schools audit increasing parents’ fears, warn principals

By John Mulgrew

An audit highlighting failings at hundreds of schools across Northern Ireland should not have been made public and puts increased pressure on an already stressed system, principals have warned.

The president of The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) Raymond McFeeters said that he feared that parents and school staff will now be left fearing for their future.

His reaction comes in the wake of the publication of an audit of schools in Northern Ireland which showed that over 500 are failing Government targets in education, finance or enrolment, and was highlighted in wednesday’s Belfast Telegraph.

Some 15 schools are failing in all three areas and Education Minister John O’Dowd has said that he would have no hesitation in closing those failing to meet targets in order to protect pupil education.

NAHT president Raymond McFeeters said that the publication of the audit may discourage parents from sending their own children to schools which are failing in education or financially.

“There are schools everybody knows need to close,” he said. “But there are others that are under stress and parents may see this and be put off. That’s not a fair way to operate. It puts additional stress on an already stressed system.”

Mark Langhammer, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said that the stark results set out “just how socially segregated our system is”.

Ronnie Hassard, principal of Ballymena Academy, said the figures — although necessary — do not tell the whole story about an individual school’s “life and work”.

Meanwhile, Avril Hall Callaghan of the Ulster Teachers’ Union said that the release of in depth and detailed figures regarding each school was “dangerous”.

“We need a wider picture. It’s so important that we don’t have a knee jerk reaction to this,” she added.

What next?

The Education Minister will be writing to schools in the coming weeks following the publication of a viability audit which highlighted failings at schools across Northern Ireland. The information will now be used to draw up an Area Plan for the future of the Northern Ireland schools’ estate. It’s expected that over the next 18 months it will be made clearer which schools are facing closure. Proposals for closures are expected to be published in February, with those earmarked beginning to shut in August 2013.

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