Belfast Telegraph

Legal challenge to Clintyclay Primary School closure plan

By Rebecca Black

A legal challenge has been launched over the decision to close a Catholic school which attempted to obtain integrated status.

Children at Clintyclay Primary School near Dungannon were devastated in October when Education Minister John O'Dowd announced their school will close.

It would have been the first Catholic school to transform to official integrated status.

But the minister said no and yesterday declared his intention to "robustly" defend his decision.

The Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) published two development proposals relating to Clintyclay. One proposal was to change the school's management to grant-maintained integrated status, which the minister has turned down, and the other was to close the school.

One of the reasons CCMS was seeking the school's closure is because it has less than 30 pupils - well below the department's figure of 105 in its sustainable schools' policy.

However, the move towards integrated status attracted more interest in the school and the numbers had risen to 33 this year and had been expected to rise even further next year based on expressions of interest.

Mr O'Dowd announced in October that the school would close next year.

Now this decision is set to be challenged in the courts.

A solicitor confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that papers had been lodged with Belfast High Court on Monday.

Chair of Clintyclay board of governors, Gerard Cunningham, is the parent of the child at the core of the legal action. He said supporters of the school were feeling hopeful.

The move comes just months after Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh successfully took Mr O'Dowd to court over his decision to refuse them permission to expand.

In a landmark decision, Mr Justice Treacy said the department had failed in its legal duty to "facilitate and encourage" integrated education.

He also criticised the department's controversial 'area-based' planning policy that has been used to determine which schools will remain open, expand, close or amalgamate to meet future demand.

That was the first legal challenge of its kind by the integrated sector. The judge described the department's approach to area-based planning as "inflexible" and the "opposite of encouraging and facilitating".

A spokeswoman from the Department of Education said: "The Department will robustly defend its decision to approve the closure of Clintyclay Primary School".

At the time Mr O'Dowd announced his decision to close the school, he said enrolment at Clintyclay is "not sustainable into the future".

Story so far

Clintyclay Primary School, located close to Dungannon, was the first Catholic school to try to transform to integrated status. The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) had proposed closing the school, but the school fought back, applying to become an integrated school. However, Education Minister John O'Dowd announced in October that it would close for good next year.

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