of the oldest primary schools in Lisburn, Hilden Integrated, has
vowed to fight plans to close it after the South Eastern
Education and Library Board deemed it "non viable".
The school, which has been part of the Hilden
community for over 130 years, was the first integrated primary
school in the area and the Board of Governors has accused the
government of a 'lack of joined up thinking'.
The school, based at Bridge Street in Hilden,
first opened in 1875 inside the Barbour Linen Mill as a means of
providing both religious and secular education for the families
of both mill employers and employees.
It now draws children from the greater
Lisburn area. The school was always interdenominational in
character and received Controlled Integrated status in 1996.
Principal Ms Eleanor Brennan said the Board
of Governors and staff arc deeply concerned by the announcement.
"As with most schools, pupil numbers have
fallen in the last few years and children's education has
benefited from smaller class sizes.
"Palling rolls provide a wonderful
opportunity to further reduce class sizes to below the 20 pupil
figure the Government seems to suggest should be the average
primary school class size."
She went on: "I do not think the SEELB is
taking into account other decisions made by local government for
the area and particularly the proposed housing developments,
both locally and in Lisburn, contained in the latest Area Plans.
The planned increase in housing will bring with it an increase
in the demand for integrated education in the Lisburn area.
Primary One pupil Kory McConkey is helped in class
by fourth generation primary seven pupil Marti
Shields - a demonstration of the unique form of
education the school provides. US17-141A0 Picture
By: Aidan O'Reilly
"If local government is planning for the
future with one hand it must look at the implications for those
plans across all the public sector provision."
The Board of Governors has now written to
parents with children at the school, advising them of the
announcement and assuring them the governors will endeavour to
resolve this situation in the best interests of the children of
Hilden, present and future.
Ms Brennan said some people would see the
proposal as unfair: "The Government has stated on many occasions
that it supports and wants to develop integrated education in
Northern Ireland. "It is more than a bit ironic and certainly
contradictory that the school at Hilden was providing education
for children of all religious beliefs in the area before
the term 'Integrated' became common place,"
she concluded. The Chairman of the school's Board of Governors,
Mr Terry Conway, said everyone at the school was determined to
fight the Board's closure proposal. "We are not going to roll
over and let this happen," he said.
"We will be challenging the Board's reasons
for suggesting the school should close."
He added: "Our greatest fear is that parents
will see this as a done deal, but I want to assure everyone that
we will be fighting this decision all the way."
Local councillor, Alderman Paul Porter, said
he was 'shocked' by the Board's proposal to close
"It is a disgrace that a decision may be
taken to close the school which has been part of the community
for a very long time," said Mr Porter.
He said the blame for the closure proposal
"lies at the feet of the Education Department who are pushing
forward cuts and putting the future of our children's education
However, he added he hoped "drastic action"
by the Board could still be averted.
"I would hope that, even at this late stage,
measures could be put in place to prevent the closure of Hilden
Integrated Primary" he said.
Board deems that schools `not viable'
THE possible closure of Hilden Integrated is one
of the measures the South Eastern Education and Library Board is
taking to redistribute funding following the completion of the
'Review of the Controlled Schools Estate'.
The Chairman of the Board's Property Services
Committee said schools such as Hilden that have been identified
for closure are "not viable in the long term". However, he also
stressed that nothing has yet been finalised and that the
Education Minister, Angela Smith will take the final decision on
the closure of any school.
"The South Eastern Board believe it is necessary
to take radical action to address this issue and to ensure
funding is diverted from maintaining schools that can no longer
meet the educational requirements of children in the 21st
century into modern, vibrant schools, which are large enough to
attract the funding that is necessary to ensure that the
accommodation, facilities, resources and staffing are sufficient
to provide the excellent education that our children deserve, to
enable them to meet the challenges of the modern world" he said.
He also said the decision to close schools was
not as a result of the financial pressures facing the Board.
For over 130 years Hilden Primary has provided a
special kind of education. It was integrated before anyone used
that word about schools. But this week an un-elected committee
decided it was `not viable'. Now the school is fighting back.