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Parents hit Twitter to grill Education Minister on primary concerns

By Lindsay Fergus

A campaign to save a rural school has taken its fight directly to the Education Minister — via Twitter.

Ballykeigle Primary, on the outskirts of Comber, has been earmarked for closure by the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) ahead of the viability audit of every school announced by the minister on September 26.

It has also been banned by SEELB from advertising for a new head — despite having the resources to do so.

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People has engaged barristers to scrutinise the legality of the board’s actions.

Yesterday, Ballykeigle parents brought the controversial situation to the attention of John O’ Dowd when he became the first Stormont minister to participate in an online question and answer session on Twitter.

One parent tweeted: “Why are you allowing the SEELB to prevent Ballykeigle Primary School from getting a new principal?”

To which the minister replied: “Appointment of principal is a matter for the SEELB. Principal is in place in Ballykeigle PS on a shared arrangement.”

It comes just two days after the board of governors at Ballykeigle hand-delivered a letter to Stanton Sloan, SEELB’s chief executive.

The letter demanded that SEELB advertises and “seeks to fill the principal vacancy at the earliest opportunity”.

It went on: “We cannot allow the present unsatisfactory arrangements to continue to the detriment of the school, the staff and the pupils. The current uncertainty is unfair to all involved, but particularly the pupils who deserve better from the education authorities.”

Today a number of parents from the school will meet with SEELB’s commissioners to highlight their concerns.

During yesterday’s hour-long Twitter session, Mr O’Dowd answered 26 questions.

Subjects he was quizzed on included post-primary transfer, nursery place shortages and the terms of reference for the viability audit.

You can view the full transcript of the Q&A here or visit www.twitter.com and search #AskDE.

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