Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Parents lose legal battle to halt two schools merging

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

A High Court judge has dismissed a legal bid to stop the amalgamation of two Belfast secondary schools.

Mr Justice Treacy's decision clears the way for the planned closure of Newtownbreda High and Knockbreda High.

Both are now set to shut so that one new school can be created in the area.

Full reasons for rejecting the challenge to Education Minister John O'Dowd's plans will be given at a later date.

The future amalgamation was announced in January after viability assessments were carried out.

Falling enrolment numbers formed part of the basis for concluding a change was required.

The parents of pupils at Newtownbreda High went to court in an attempt to have the plans quashed, claiming their children's education will suffer.

One of those involved is the mother of a dyslexic girl who fears her progress may be jeopardised by the move.

Their lawyers claimed Mr O'Dowd took the decision without proper reasoning and consultation.

The proper course of action would have been to just close Knockbreda and integrate its pupils into Newtownbreda, according to their case.

It was stressed that school inspectors have given an improved rating to Newtownbreda High, up from satisfactory to good.

Mr Justice Treacy was also told that an ethos of supporting and nurturing pupils could be destroyed by opening a new school.

With the new school due to open its doors next year, the process to identify and appoint a principal is understood to be at an advanced stage. As part of their campaign pupils also wrote to Mr O'Dowd directly, urging him to reconsider his plans.

An email from one fourth-year girl at Newtownbreda, read out in court, attributed her high A-C grades to the "amazing" teaching staff.

She asked the minister: "Why not just close Knockbreda? We don't deserve to close."

However, counsel for Mr O'Dowd insisted he had taken everything into account as part of a detailed analysis.

Suggestions that the minister conducted little more than a box-ticking exercise were rejected.

Lawyers for the South Eastern Education and Library Board also submitted that the challenge was out of time because the original development proposals were published more than a year ago.

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