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Belfast schools Little Flower and St Pat's take amalgamation fight to MLAs

By Rebecca Black

Published 03/02/2016

Little Flower girls’ school on the Somerton Road in Belfast
Little Flower girls’ school on the Somerton Road in Belfast
St Patrick’s College, Bearnageeha, on the Antrim Road

Two north Belfast secondary schools have taken their campaign against amalgamation to Stormont.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has proposed closing Little Flower girls' school on the Somerton Road and St Patrick's, Bearnageeha on the Antrim Road to create a new co-ed school operating across a split campus.

The Development Proposal - which is now on Education Minister John O'Dowd's desk - envisages a new Catholic 11-19 co-educational post-primary school with an enrolment of 1,300, admission number of 195 and with a sixth form of 325 pupils to be established by September 2017.

However this has prompted a furious reaction from supporters of the schools.

More than 1,600 have signed a petition against it.

A spokesperson for the concerned parents group of Little Flower School told the Belfast Telegraph if the plans go ahead children will be removed from the school.

"The people of north Belfast deserve a choice," the spokesperson said.

"We think our right to choose a single sex Catholic school is being removed.

"Little Flower is a good school, we just had a great Education and Training Inspectorate report, our principal Jim McKeever won principal of the year at the Blackboard awards - if it isn't broke, don't fix it.

"We know that if these plans go ahead people will withdraw their children from the school, we will vote with our feet.

"Mercy College is going to be made co-ed too, so there will be no choice for parents in north Belfast.

"This will force our children to sit the unregulated transfer tests because the grammar schools will be the only way to get them into single sex schools, or else having to get buses to other part of the city.

"If you are a parent in north Belfast and want your daughter to go to a single sex Catholic school, she will have to go to the Falls Road."

The spokesperson said the Little Flower parents are convinced that single sex education is best for their daughters.

"We have looked at a lot of research about co-ed schools that proves they have an adverse effect on the learning ability of girls between the ages of 11 and 14," she said.

"Girls education suffers, co-educational schools are not as successful for girls.

"Research has also proved that amalgamated split site schools experience a dip for a number of years after, which they say can last up to five years - that can be the entire secondary education of one of our kids.

"Yes we need sustainability in schools, but our school has a full roll, the best GCSE results of all the non grammar secondary schools in north Belfast and an intake of 110 last year."

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness presented the petition on behalf of the concerned parents to the Assembly.

"These are two very good schools, but the idea of having single sex is something that people do want and it will maintain a choice within the Catholic sector in north Belfast.

"It is reflected in the controlled sector in north Belfast where you have two very good schools in the Boys Model and the Girls Model which are both single sex schools.

"Also in the Catholic grammar sector you have St Malachy's for boys and Dominican College which is all girls. The idea is to maintain them as single sex schools.

"It all makes sense when you look at it."

Mr Maginness said the fact 1,600 have signed the petition against the proposal to dissolve both Little Flower and St Patrick's and form a new co-ed school reflects the depth of feeling against it.

"It is a large number of people expressing opposition," he said.

"This is just concerned parents, nothing political about it. They are expressing their very genuine concern.

"I think if you are going to have a consultation you need to listen very carefully to what people are saying.

"I was honoured to bring the petition to the Assembly and was very happy to do so.

"People's concerns need to be articulated."

The public consultation launched last November has now finished and the decision now rests with Education Minister John O'Dowd.

Belfast Telegraph

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