A consultation period has begun over the closure of a primary school that has served the border community between Londonderry and Donegal for more than 150 years.
Allougry Primary School is earmarked for closure in August 2023 in a plan published by the Education Authority (EA), with the school’s principal saying all connected with the school has been “shocked” at the EA plan.
The eight-week consultation period is set to go ahead with arguments from the board of governors at the 44-pupil school that plans to increase student numbers in future years.
Earlier this year, the EA revealed an ambitious five-year plan to streamline the education system, with up to 300 schools facing an uncertain future.
Under the proposals, some 228 primary schools and 54 post-primary schools fall below the threshold of the minimum pupil numbers.
With 44 pupils, Ballougry Primary School is well below the EA Guide for 105 pupils in a rural location and has been deemed “unsustainable”. With falling student numbers and an operating financial deficit which the EA said is expected to rise to £ 250,000 by 2024, the authority said closing the school was the best option for saving money.
The education system faces a further 2% budget cut next year at a time when it is already facing a multimillion-pound deficit, with EA figures showing that educating a pupil at a smaller primary school is about £ 1,500 more expensive than a larger one. General Chat Chat Lounge
Ballougry is just three miles from Londonderry and only a mile from Co Donegal; Some of the school’s pupils cross to the border to attend.
The EA plan to close the school stated that pupils from Ballougry could join primaries in Derry City, where they would have more educational and extra-curricular activities.
Supporters of the school held a public meeting last week, with principal Mr Damien O’Kane saying the school was “shocked” to learn the intentions of the EA to close the consultation.
In a letter to parents the principal said he was proud of the children and staff at the school and invited everyone in the community to show “incredible steps forward” the school has made over the years.
“Unfortunately, the Education Authority’s Area Planning Department focuses on school enrollment numbers and school finances, along with many other quality schools, especially small rural schools such as ours,” he said.
“We, myself and the board of governors are as shocked as I know you will be. We have consistently maintained that Ballougry has made incredible steps forward and we have backed up this evidential document, which we feel the EA has not given due credit.
“We now need your help, as our dedicated parents and guardians, to inform the Education Authority through the process that we deserve in this community.
“Please rest assured that I will continue to do anything within my power to do the absolute best for Ballougry Primary School,” he added.
“I will continue to invest all my efforts in its continued progress and development.”
As well as having pupils from Co Donegal, Ballougry is a shared education partnership with two schools in the Irish county.
Its children take part in regular activities with pupils from St Joseph’s National School in Rathmullan and Ayr Hill National School.
It will be the responsibility of any future education minister to decide whether the school closes, with a final decision expected in January 2023.
The Education Authority is expected to continue stepping up its five-year plan for streamlining the education system following its consultation with its area plan, meaning many more rural schools will be looking over. Ballougry PS process runs until Wednesday, June 29th.
The school was named on a list of sustainability issues by the EA in 2019.