Belfast Telegraph

Families protest against Northern Ireland schools closure plan

By Donna Deeney

A protest against plans to shut seven out of 10 special schools in Belfast will be taken to the doorstep of the Education Authority (EA) in the city today.

The proposal is contained in the EA's Annual Action Plan for 2018-19 - along with plans to close or merge 27 schools.

It is part of a three-year plan which has already identified 40 schools which the EA has said are not sustainable.

Parents of children attending the seven affected special schools will be among those taking part in the protest, including some who are also considering a legal challenge against the EA.

Ciara Guiney, whose daughter Amy-Lou (7) attends Oakwood special school, said her daughter's needs will not be met in a bigger school.

She said it means Amy-Lou will have to go to another school which has over 300 pupils.

"She will never cope in a school that size and I do not believe for one minute her educational needs will be met, so I am actually going to take legal advice about challenging the EA and seek a judicial review," Ms Guiney said.

"The Education Authority are trying to ram through the decision to close down schools without a real understanding about how our children will be affected by it.

"My daughter has come on leap and bounds since being in Oakwood, she knows all the staff and they all know her.

"She has benefited massively from being in a small specialised school. I would be devastated if all this expertise would be thrown up in the air because the EA is trying to implement cutbacks.

"We have battled with them before and will continue to do so until they commit to protecting our children's schools."

The list of schools earmarked for either closure or merger in the EA Action Plan are across every level of education.

They come from all sectors which do not meet pupil number targets for sustainability, which are between 105 and 140 for primary schools and 500 for post primary schools.

A public consultation process will begin shortly to allow parents to have their say.

Sinn Fein education spokeswoman Karen Mullan has urged parents affected to make their voices heard.

"When people hear the EA referring to sustainability issues, that raises obvious concerns with parents, staff and local communities," said the Foyle MLA.

"However, the sustainability criteria covers six different areas and these will all have to be closely examined in any proposals that do come forward, so low numbers alone is not a reason to close a school.

"And while we recognise there are issues facing the schools estate, the primary focus has to be the educational welfare of children," Ms Mullan added.

"That is what should be driving any changes, not a desire to cut spending in the face of Tory-DUP austerity cuts."

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said: "The Education Authority's proposals to shut down seven out of 10 special needs schools in Belfast is outrageous.

"Parents and staff alike are outraged, and rightly so.

"It seems that the EA is the only body still supporting these closures.

"They should take heed of public discontent and put an end to these plans," he said.

The Education Authority was contacted for a response, but did not comment last night.

Belfast Telegraph

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