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Education Minister John O'Dowd defends closure of Clintyclay Primary

By Rebecca Black

Education Minister John O'Dowd has insisted he takes decisions with children as his priority as he faces continued criticism over closing the first Catholic school to attempt to transform to integrated.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the parents of a child at Clintyclay Primary, near Dungannon, Co Tyrone, was taking the minister to court over his decision to close it.

The historic school had fewer than 30 pupils, but expressions of interest for next September had risen significantly as Clintyclay began its journey towards integrated status.

In a letter to this newspaper, Mr O'Dowd said he will robustly defend his decision to approve a development proposal by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools to close Clintyclay.

"To be sustainable, a school must attract a minimum enrolment in addition to other factors," he said. "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 in this paper referred to a judgment issued earlier this year after Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh took the minister to court over his decision to now allow it to expand.

Mr O'Dowd took issue with the claim that a judge found his department had failed in its statutory obligation to encourage and facilitate integrated education.

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

Article 64 refers to a section of the 1989 Education Order which states the department should encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education.

But Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said: "On the Drumragh judgment, the wise words of Mr Justice Treacy represented a very definite shot across the bows of the department and the minister, and whilst he can nitpick about the exact interpretation of the judgment, there is no doubt that it was critical of their performance in the execution of their duties under Article 64."

Mr Lunn said he "firmly believes" the minister should have given Clintyclay 12 months to prove the support within the community for an integrated school.

He claimed the Drumragh judgment was an "embarrassment" for the department and queried why Mr O'Dowd had not made a decision on the expansion of Omagh integrated secondary school.

Background

The parents of a child at Clintyclay Primary School have taken Education Minister John O'Dowd to court over his decision to close it, instead of allowing it to transform to integrated status.

It follows a judicial review taken recently of the minister's decision to not allow Drumagh Integrated College in Omagh to expand its numbers.

In a judgment issued last year, Mr Justice Treacy was critical of the department over its obligation to encourage integrated education.

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