Castlewellan school closure plans 'a major blow'
The Education Authority has been blasted over plans to close a primary school in Co Down.
It's reported by the BBC that Castlewellan Primary School will be shut by September 2020 if the plan goes ahead.
Previously it had been suggested the school should merge with Annsborough Integrated Primary School because of falling numbers.
A consultation on the plan was carried out in May 2018 and found that removing a controlled school from Castlewellan "would have a detrimental impact on the local Protestant community".
Ulster Unionist councillor Alan Lewis has called the news "very disappointing".
"I believe the actions and comments from the Education Authority in recent years have deliberately contributed towards the proposed closure," he said.
"By questioning the sustainability of the school so publicly and forcefully it only persuaded some parents to think that closure was imminent, so in turn they acted by pre-emptively moving their children to a different school."
He said this only served to weaken the position of Castlewellan Primary School even further.
"The level of support provided for the children in Castlewellan Primary with additional needs was regularly identified as a major strength of the school in previous inspections.
"The loss of that specialist and compassionate support will be particularly felt," said Mr Lewis.
"It's also a major blow to the minority Protestant community in the town and the surrounding rural area. The previous consultation last May, which categorically concluded that removing the school would have a detrimental impact on that section of the local community, has obviously just been ignored.
"I am also very uncomfortable that unelected and unaccountable education officials have found themselves able to make such a serious decision in the total absence of any political oversight.
"I have spoken with the principal and will be meeting with the Board of Governors and Education Authority officials in coming days."
The Education Authority has said that after the merger proposal became public, a number of parents chose to move their children to different schools.
This saw Castlewellan Primary's numbers fall from 44 in 2017/18 down to 27 in 2018/19.
Although the school has the capacity for 110 pupils, the enrolment figures have regularly fallen well below this target in recent years.
Other obstacles facing the Co Down school include an increasing financial deficit.
The Education Authority has said it now believes the only option available is to close the school while Annsborough Integrated Primary School will remain open.
The consultation remains open until June 28 and can be found on the Education Authority website with a final decision expected early next year.