A NEW special needs satellite school is set to open in Saintfield this autumn.
The former St Mary’s Primary School site is set to be transformed into a satellite school for Oakwood School and Assessment Centre.
The former St Mary’s school closed a year ago after pupil numbers fell to just 17.
Former Education Minister Michelle McIlveen, a Strangford MLA, has confirmed that the Education Authority (EA) confirmed the new school to her earlier in the summer.
Misss McIlveen said she is ‘delighted’ that Saintfield has been confirmed as the site for a new SEN school.
“The school will initially provide places for 27 pupils with a Statement of Special Educational Needs,” she said.
“Officials have confirmed that negotiations have recently concluded with the Trustees of the former St Mary’s Primary School building and that a lease is being finalised. I understand that contractors have been appointed for the project.
“They have also confirmed that further provision at the site will be considered as and when required. The demand for specialised provision has grown in recent years and I am really pleased that buildings such as St Mary’s Primary School are being repurposed rather than being left to deteriorate.
“It is vitally important that young people with a Statement are educated in facilities that are fit for purpose.”
Rowallane councillor Callum Bowsie said the demand for special needs provision in education has never been greater.
“Through my role as a councillor and working in Michelle McIlveen’s office in recent years, I am aware of the difficulties many families have faced in finding adequate SEN provision for their child,” said the councillor.
“I am very pleased to learn from EA that the former St Mary’s Primary School site is set to become a satellite school to the award-winning Oakwood Special School in Malone.
“I am led to believe from EA officials that the current estimated completion date for the project is Halloween.”
St Mary’s was closed on August 31, 2022 after pupil numbers had dropped to 17, with zero pupils being admitted to P1 over the preceding five academic years.