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Education minister refuses to order investigation at crisis-hit De La Salle

By Rebecca Black

Published 09/04/2016

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

Education Minister John O'Dowd has refused to order an investigation into a west Belfast school which has been dogged by divisions for months.

The Concerned Parents of De La Salle committee described their meeting with John O'Dowd yesterday as "unbelievably disheartening and disappointing".

They had hoped for an internal inspection of the boys' secondary school which has hit the headlines over the past year because of a dispute between staff and management.

Mr O'Dowd said in response that an independent investigation into the school "as with any school... is possible should relevant evidence be presented".

Regular protests have been held outside the school in recent weeks following high levels of staff absences.

The tension is understood to relate to an incident last year.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has appointed an associate principal to help address the issues.

Parents have spoken of their concern about a detrimental effect on pupils and head boy Peter Heenan spoke out last month saying he believes the dispute has harmed students "in both an emotional and educational sense".

The concerned parents group's meeting with the minister took place at Stormont, but afterwards they said they weren't happy with how the talks had gone.

"This was an unbelievably disheartening and disappointing meeting to say the least," a spokesman for the group said.

"He (the minister) informed us that there would be no internal inspection.

"The Concerned Parents committee feel that this meeting did not meet with our needs or expectations by degree."

Mr O'Dowd said he has listened to the concerns of the group.

"Like the parents of all pupils attending De La Salle, I am concerned about the impact of the current situation on the education of these young people, especially those due to sit examinations soon," he said.

"I have listened to the concerned parents group and I recognise their concerns. We agreed that the appointment of the associate principal, who is now in place, is a positive move. I am confident that the addition of Imelda Jordan, a highly respected educationalist with an impressive track record, is a game-changer and will help to stabilise the learning environment.

"I outlined to the group the work undertaken by the relevant authorities to address concerns. I believe the seven-point plan, agreed by CCMS, unions and the Board of Governors before Christmas, is the route to resolution."

Mr O'Dowd also confirmed he will not be standing down the current management team or Board of Governors at De La Salle.

"However, I do expect that those signed up to the agreed seven-point plan play their part fully.

"I and my department will be keeping the implementation of the plan under close review," he said.

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