Belfast Telegraph

Ruane blamed for prep closure

by Natalie Irvine

The board of governors of Bangor Grammar school has launched a scathing attack on the Education Minister Caitríona Ruane’s policy, as it announced the “deeply regrettable” decision to close Connor House preparatory school next June because of a rapid decline in school numbers.

The board said the plunge in school numbers from 138 in the last academic year to 82 this year, “followed the Education Minister’s consultation on a proposal to withdraw grant-aid to preparatory departments and her consequent decision to remove a third of their funding” — and “not from any lack of confidence in the quality of the school.”

The board explained that the fall in numbers had forced it to hike fees to their present level, which the board believes to be as high as the parents can sustain, adding that: “Fees rising at a time of economic difficulty led to some parents, understandably, feeling they could no longer sustain the cost of a Connor House education.”

The board’s statement stresses that it strenuously sought to avoid such an outcome by exploring all alternatives “but have reluctantly accepted it is no longer financially viable to sustain Connor House in the face of falling pupil |numbers”.

The board’s statement goes on to reveal the devastating impact the closure will have on the local community with 24 teaching and ancillary staff now facing redundancy and children having to switch to new schools. The closure proposal includes the pre-prep class at Connor House.

DUP MLA Peter Weir said: “I am deeply saddened at news of the proposal to close Connor House. This is a very sad day for everyone connected with the school, and the people of north Down in general.

“This is no reflection on the teaching standards at the school, which remain consistently excellent, but rather a reflection of the financial circumstances forced upon the school by the dogmatism of the Education Minister.

“The reduction in funding to prep schools has finally forced numbers down at Connor House below a sustainable number. The targeting of prep schools predates the current Education Minister but certainly her action in reducing funding to just 20 per cent has been the straw that has broken the camel's back.

“There will be difficult days ahead for parents, pupils and staff,” he added.

A Department of Education spokesperson said the education minister had announced in April that she would continue to fund preparatory departments but at a reduced level.

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