Belfast Telegraph

School digs in amid fears it could be axed in shake-up

By Mark Bain

A Co Down school is ready to stand strong over a threat to its future.

Movilla High School in Newtownards is in jeopardy as part of plans to rationalise post-primary provision across Ards and North Down. But UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt, who is on the board of governors at Movilla, has accused the Education Authority (EA) of "arrogance" over a claim the school does not have community support.

Mr Nesbitt warned that the EA is "in for the fight of its life" once a public consultation opens into the future of the school.

Under the guidance of principal Ian Bell, Movilla's GCSE results have improved three years in succession - a fact, said Mr Nesbitt, that seems to have been lost on the Education Authority.

"It was Movilla High School itself that identified issues over sustainability and since the school has been totally flexible in discussions with the EA," Mr Nesbitt said. "Newtownards is the eighth largest town in Northern Ireland and these proposals will leave it without a non-selective post-primary school. That simply can't be allowed to happen.

"We're not precious about the name and if the Movilla branding has to go then so be it. This is about giving the people of North Down a choice including a school that has improved GCSE results three years in a row. It's succeeding but not once has the principal received any praise.

"The Education Authority have come up with an area plan which we feel leaves it as a foregone conclusion that Movilla High School will close. One of the reasons they gave was a lack of community support for the school. I find it completely arrogant of the Education Authority to say support is not there.

"We called a public meeting last Tuesday and 250 people turned up. A petition already has 1,700 signatures. If that's not community support then I don't know what is."

He added: "They can expect a tsunami of positive responses once this goes to public consultation."

The EA confirmed Movilla High School was having "sustainability issues" but said proposals for change "would be subject to full consultation". A spokesman said: "As the school's managing authority, the Education Authority was charged with bringing forward potential solutions aimed at ensuring long-term sustainable post-primary education provision across the Ards and North Down Area. A strategic review of post-primary provision in the area was carried out, and the draft report was subsequently shared with principals and chairs of governors of schools across the Local Government District.

"The EA is currently receiving feedback from these post-primary schools and this feedback will be used to help inform proposals on which the EA can then consult with a range of stakeholders across the area.

"The purpose of area planning is to ensure that pupils are taught in an education system that comprises a network of sustainable schools, within reasonable travelling distance, capable of effectively delivering the statutory curriculum. Any proposal for a change to education provision in the area will be subject to full consultation."

Belfast Telegraph

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