Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

School expansion got go-ahead months before closure threat

The South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) gave the green light for expansion of a school’s special needs units just months before it earmarked it for potential closure.

Documents show that the board of governors and parents of Knockmore Primary School in Lisburn were advised by SEELB in March that units would be extended in September 2011.

But last month the SEELB revealed it was reviewing the school’s future, including its potential closure. Commissioners meet on Monday to decide its fate.

The expansion was acknowledged in a letter by board chief executive Stanton Sloan this month.

The SEELB correspondence stated: “I am pleased to advise you that the commissioners have agreed to extend provision at your school to P1-P7.”

At a meeting last week, parents challenged the board as to why it had expanded provision only to earmark the school for closure.

Fiona Darragh, chairwoman of Knockmore Working Group, wrote to Mr Sloan on November 15 following the meeting — the day before the four-week consultation on Knockmore ended.

It stated: “We were under the impression that the unit provision was to be expanded and I trust that you will understand, given the content and wording used in the attached letters, why we arrived at such a conclusion.”

Bizarrely, Mr Sloan replied to Mrs Darragh last Friday stating: “I acknowledge receipt of your correspondence... unfortunately it was received after the closing date of November 16, therefore it cannot be included in the decision-making process.”

Mrs Darragh, who has a receipt from the SEELB showing the letter was accepted at 10.57am on November 16, accused the board of “total incompetence”.

A SEELB spokesman said: “A decision was taken to restructure the speech and language/social communication units at Knockmore and Belvoir Primary Schools to make educational provision in each setting for pupils from Year 1 to Year 7.

“Prior to this, Knockmore Primary School units provided education for children in Years 1-3 while Belvoir Primary School units provided education for Years 4-7.

“This restructuring obviated the need for pupils to change schools.”

Factfile

SEELB has told staff and parents it is contemplating publishing a development proposal recommending closure of Knockmore Primary School with effect from August 31, 2012. One in three children at the mainstream school are catered for in its special units, which had to expand down the years due to increased demand. Around 50% of children in the two special needs units transfer to mainstream education and require no additional or specialist support.

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