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School closure is based on best interest of pupils

I WISH to respond to the article 'Legal challenge to school closure plan' (News, December 26). This article primarily focuses on my decision to agree the closure of Clintyclay Primary School.

As quoted, I will robustly defend my decision. To be sustainable a school must attract a minimum enrolment in addition to other factors. In the case of Clintyclay, enrolment figures have continued to fall over a number of years.

Transforming to integrated status is not a solution to falling enrolment in a school.

The article also makes reference to the court case taken by Drumragh Integrated College. It has been commented that the department has failed to consider its statutory duty under Article 64. This is a misrepresentation.

The department recognised that the original submission to me failed adequately to set out the duties under Article 64 in this case.

Despite the fact that I offered to retake the decision, the applicant proceeded with the judicial review.

In relation to area planning, the applicant in the judicial review attacked the use of area planning and the "needs model" by the department and sought to have them declared illegal.

The court rejected the argument that area planning and use of the needs model were illegal and made no substantive criticism of area planning; the judgment contains a tacit endorsement that long-range planning in education is both rational and necessary.

Be assured that I will continue to give full consideration to any proposal published.

I consider all views expressed during the consultation period, but ultimately I make my decision based on the best interests of the pupils and not the institutions.

JOHN O'DOWD

Minister of Education

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