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65 Northern Ireland schools have shut down since 2011

By Rebecca Black

Some 65 schools in Northern Ireland have been closed in the last four years, it can be revealed.

This list includes four special schools, a hospital school and even a nursery school, despite scores of children each year not being able to secure a place at a nursery.

It also includes two preparatory departments.

Down High Prep and Dalriada Prep could not remain open after former Education Minister Caitriona Ruane slashed State funding for prep schools by a third.

Last year saw the most school closures (21), while nine were closed in 2013/14. In 2012/13, 18 schools were closed, and in 2011/12, 17 schools were closed.

Since 2011, 33 maintained schools have been shut, while 29 controlled schools and two voluntary grammars were closed in the same period.

Some of these closures were amalgamations, including Knockbreda High and Newtownbreda High, which became Breda Academy, and Monkstown Community School and Newtownabbey Community School, which became Abbey Community College.

One of the most recent closures was Avoniel Primary in east Belfast. Parents fought a strong campaign to save it, including taking a judicial review of the decision. However, its doors shut for good at the end of August.

One of the more unique to be closed was Altnagelvin Hospital School.

Announcing his decision to shut it in 2012, Education Minister John O'Dowd said there was no longer a requirement for this service.

Mr O'Dowd ordered a review of the schools estate in 2011 after it emerged there were 82,500 empty desks. Following an Assembly question by SDLP MLA Sean Rogers on how many schools had been shut since 2011, Mr O'Dowd revealed that he has closed 65 altogether.

These included Orangefield High School in east Belfast, which had hundreds of empty places.

Earlier this year the Belfast Telegraph revealed that seven children from east Belfast had not been able to get a place at a local secondary. They were forced to travel either across the city to Breda Academy, which would mean two different buses, or go outside Belfast to Dundonald or Newtownards.

Peter Weir, chair of Stormont's education committee, warned that closures must be handled delicately. "Given the long-term problem that has been highlighted on many occasions with spare capacity within our schools system, these figures are perhaps unsurprising, and, ultimately, it is right that scarce educational resources are targeted at benefiting pupils directly rather than simply sustaining buildings," he said.

"However, we are not starting from a blank page as regards the schools estate, so school closures have got to be handled with sensitivity and, where possible, community buy-in.

"This should be aided by a robust area planning system, identifying the long-term education needs of localities, but the process has not been helped at times by poor implementation of area planning, concerns that it has not been done on whole education sector basis, and that the needs-based model has not always been got right."

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