Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland

Hilden Primary vows to fight for its future

Hilden Integrated Primary SchoolONE 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.

Hilden Integrated 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 at risk."

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.

Ulster Star