Malvern school closure decision deferred after stormy meeting
A decision over whether to close a west Belfast primary school was deferred last night following a long and stormy meeting.
Supporters of Malvern Primary School, located on the lower Shankill, staged a protest outside the Belfast Education and Library Board as they deliberated over its future.
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds and Malvern principal Marie Foreman spoke to the board during the meeting, pleading the case of the school.
After a lengthy meeting, which was described as "heated", the decision was deferred for one month.
Parents, staff, trade union officials and other supporters of the school kept a vigil outside the building as the meeting went on.
Neil Irvine from the GMB union said the school has received support from both sides of the community, with Sinn Fein West Belfast MP Paul Maskey as well as Mr Dodds lobbying for it.
A petition to keep it open has been signed by 2,500 people.
The school currently educates 103 children.
"The first the parents knew about this was in September, before that there had been talk of amalgamating the school with another one," he said.
"We don't feel the board has taken into account the rising number of children at the school, the fact that a housing association has just built 60 homes in the area and the strong, tight-knit community it serves," he said.
Tracey Coulter's son recently left the school and is now doing well at the Belfast Boys Model, thanks to the attention he had received at Malvern.
"My son was diagnosed with special needs when he was in P2, the P2 teacher watched him and got him referred, he is dyslexic and has ADHD," she said.
"Then he was about three or four years behind where he should have been, when he got the special help, he jumped up three years. That P2 teacher is fantastic."
Another supporter, Marie McKinney, currently works in the kitchen and sent her three daughters to the school.
Two of them have now graduated from university and she said the school played an important role in their development.
Reverend Jack Lamb of nearby Townsend Presbyterian Church said the school played an important role in the community of the lower Shankill as it is the only primary school in the area.
"It's a special place, teachers who come here tend to stay."