Sunday, May 19, 2024

SCHOOL CLOSURE WILL DAMAGE TOWN

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DONAGHADEE will suffer as a town from the closure of St Anne’s Primary School, one of the leading campaigners for the school has claimed.

As parents, staff and local politicians gathered on Tuesday evening to protest against the closure plan, Ross Kerr asked where the children from the hundreds of new homes will be educated.

St Anne’s is due to close on October 31 after it failed in its bid to become an integrated school.

Opponents to the closure, which was announced in June, say the town is set for population growth, with the creation of hundreds of new homes, recently on the market, and others underway.

Mr Kerr, parent of a child at the school said once everybody moves in, there is going to be no room in Donaghadee schools and the problem is going to move to Bangor.

Mr Kerr said the closure of St Anne’s was ‘another step to kill the town and the community’ and staged a demonstration this week with other parents to highlight the pitfalls of the decision to close the school.

On Tuesday, parents were joined by teachers and local political and business representatives to highlight the lack of school places once homes like the High Trees development on the Newtownards Road, are filled with families – and children.

The parents and supporters, who are adamant the school can still be saved, carried their message of defiance to the entrance of the Strand Home development.

A banner they carried asked: “400 new homes – where will your kids go to school? It won’t be Donaghadee. Re-open St Anne’s for integration.” 

Mr Kerr said the banner ‘was a last ditch effort by four or five parents to take action and to try to do something positive’.

The news that St Anne’s failed in its bid to become integrated was exacerbated when the Department of Education agreed to a proposal by the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools to shut the school entirely.

Stressing the importance of maintaining ‘essential infrastructure and services’ Mr Kerr said St Anne’s could still be saved.

“It’s a reversible decision,” he said. “It’s a decision that was made in haste but it’s reversible.” 

He pointed to other examples of bad decision making for the town and the stripping of its infrastructure, namely the closure of Donaghadee’s bus station a number of years ago and even the demise of its railway network in the 1960s. 

He further added that he feared that the new developments could leave Donaghadee in a situation similar to Strangford, where he said local people had been outpriced in housing and can no longer afford to buy houses locally. 

“You can’t just have pensioners living in the town,” he said. “It happened to Strangford – and local people can’t afford to buy homes there now.”

It is understood a small number of children are preparing to return to St Anne’s when it re-opens after the summer break, tomorrow (Friday).

The embattled school’s website continues to invite people to sign the petition against the scheduled closure. 

In its appeal, the school stresses its case: “We are, of course, heart-broken and shocked that, despite providing quality education for 91 years, despite having a growing enrolment (from 29 pupils to 58) in a town whose population continues to swell, and despite having a surplus budget, the Department’s main concern is simply that we do not meet the arbitrary number of 105 pupils. This is the wrong decision.”

A judicial review is being prepared into the decision to axe the school. 

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