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Legal challenge to merger of Belfast's Little Flower school and St Patrick's College

By Rebecca Black

Published 23/09/2016

St Patrick’s College Bearnageeha
St Patrick’s College Bearnageeha
Little Flower Girls’ School in north Belfast

The parent of a pupil at a Belfast school is planning to apply for a judicial review of a decision to amalgamate it with a lower performing school.

Little Flower and St Patrick's College Bearnageeha in north Belfast are due to merge by next September.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) proposed the amalgamation in 2015, and it was approved by former Education Minister John O'Dowd earlier this year.

But the decision is set to be challenged in the courts in November, and a group of Little Flower parents have vowed to protest outside CCMS.

Almost 2,000 signed a petition against the amalgamation earlier this year. Now the parents have appealed to the new Education Minister Peter Weir to intervene.

One of the mothers involved with the campaign who has a daughter in Year 8 at Little Flower has said she feels the school is being penalised despite meeting the department's definition of a sustainable school.

She said Little Flower had consistently outperformed St Patrick's College in terms of its GCSE pass rate.

"Little Flower is financially stable, it is performing well and is even used as an example of a successful secondary school in national media - yet with this amalgamation we are being punished," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We would question the sustainable schools policy when we - who meet its definition - are being amalgamated with another school.

"We also feel like the whole process is being rushed through.

"We, the parents of the children in this school, want a new consultation and for the minister to take a look at our case."

The mother said they feel like the process is being "rushed through", with a board of governors for the proposed new school already appointed.

She added a judicial review being taken by one of the parents is set to be heard in November.

Little Flower is a girls' secondary school, while St Patrick's is a single-sex boys' school.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: "The department has received a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review which commences legal proceedings.

"It would be inappropriate to comment until the judicial process has concluded."

Mr O'Dowd approved the amalgamation of Little Flower and St Patrick's in March following the proposal from CCMS.

He announced then that the two schools would form a new 11-19 co-educational post-primary school with an admission number of 195 and enrolment number of 1,300.

"These proposals are the result of several years of planning and I commend CCMS and the schools involved for their work in this regard," he said.

"It has been a challenging road for all concerned, but I am satisfied that my decisions will future-proof Catholic provision in this area for many years to come."

A spokeswoman for CCMS said: "The decision to amalgamate Little Flower Girls' School with St Patrick's was taken by the Minister for Education in March 2016.

"We welcomed the decision and are now working with the schools in relation to the implementation of that decision.

"As per the ministerial decision, the plan remains for the amalgamation to take place on September 1 2017 or as soon as possible thereafter."

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