Belfast Telegraph

Parents vow to fight axing of 'outstanding' Co Fermanagh school

By Gerry McLaughlin

A group of parents have vowed to "fight tooth and nail" to save a school that the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools plans to close next year.

CCMS is planning to close St Mary's High School, Brollagh, Co Fermanagh, by August 31 next year, the Belfast Telegraph has learned.

But the proposal has been greeted with fury by parents who are determined to fight to make sure the school, which caters for pupils from Belleek, Garrison, Derrygonnelly and Belcoo, stays open.

"We fought before and we were successful and we will fight again," said one irate parent.

In a letter seen by this paper, the CCMS said it had "explored the cross-border options" as advocated by former Education Minister John O'Dowd together with "other options".

"And having reviewed the position of the school, CCMS is now consulting on the proposal to close the school with effect from August 31, 2018," the letter reads.

"On this occasion, CCMS has decided to carry out this consultation in writing.

"Officers from CCMS will meet with stakeholders, if required. I can assure you that in undertaking this exercise, CCMS endeavours to ensure that the best educational interests of the children remain the focus of our attention". The CCMS letter added that the school currently had an enrolment of 84.

It added: "The number of children attending a school is the main factor in calculating a school's budget for the year. As pupil numbers decline, the school's deficit grows. The school is now in a position where its deficit is now irrecoverable".

But an angry parent strongly rejected the CCMS view. "St Mary's is an excellent place to be educated and it was rated 10th out of 60 non selected schools in Northern Ireland for GCSEs," they said.

"That is an outstanding achievement by any standards, but those in authority just don't want to listen.

"They are determined to close the school and we are equally determined to keep it open. A few years ago we were told that there would be a cross-border dimension to the school and that substantial funding was to be made available to the school. Where has that money gone?"

The parent added: "The parents have fought off challenges to our school before and we will do again."

In its letter the CCMS said all responses should be returned by post or email by March 10. "This is a difficult and sensitive issue, but CCMS is confident of your co-operation in this consultation exercise. Ultimately, we all wish to ensure that where a change does occur, it will be in the best educational interests of the pupils attending St Mary's High School."

The parent added: "And we will literally go to the end of the Earth to save a school that has provided excellent education in west Fermanagh since 1965."

A CCMS spokeswoman responded to these comments: "A letter was issued to all parents, staff and governors on February 10, 2017 setting out the proposal to close St Mary's High School with effect from August 31, 2018.

"The letter clearly sets out the policy and practical reasons for the proposal. The critical factor to be considered is the right for all children to access the curriculum necessary for them to realise their full potential as learners."

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