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Four schools face closure as Caitriona Ruane to wield axe again

By Lindsay Fergus

More than 30 schools have closed under the stewardship of Education Minister Caitriona Ruane, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

With the Assembly elections just two weeks away the minister has also been asked to shut the doors of a further four primary schools.

The schools in Co Antrim and Co Down have suffered from falling enrolment and a cut in Department of Education funding.

Their closure will affect more than 150 pupils and dozens of staff.

Following consultation with the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools and Boards of Governors, Vere Foster Primary in west Belfast, Connor House Preparatory in Bangor, Braid Primary in Ballymena and Lourdes Primary in Whitehead have submitted development proposals for closure at the end of the school year to the Department of Education.

The final decision rests with the minister.

Since May 2007 the department has received 33 proposals for closure and all have been ratified.

However, more than £250m has been invested in the schools’ estate since Ms Ruane became minister.

The nail in the coffin for Connor House, which had more than a dozen staff and 80 pupils in September, came after Ms Ruane slashed funding to prep schools to 20% last year.

Ironically, the department will now have to provide 100% funding for those pupils whose parents decide to place their children in controlled schools.

DUP North Down Assembly candidate Peter Weir said: “This is a very sad day and it’s one that actually shows the madness of the approach taken by this minister.

“As the result of funding cuts she brought in, she has made schools like Connor House non-viable. These pupils for the most part will now be going to state primary schools and that bill will be picked up by the taxpayer.”

In Ballymena 16 pupils and six members of staff have been impacted by the decision to close Braid Primary, which had been earmarked to receive almost £119,000 in funding for 2011/12.

Principal Brian McCaughan said: “I have known this day was coming for quite some time but it is still very sad.”

Vere Foster off the Springfield Road has seen its pupils slump to 41 while Lourdes Primary has seen a similar decline to 33.

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