Teachers and parents bring concerns to City Council meeting
by JENNY MONROE
At Lisburn Council Chamber are families and politicians opposed to the proposed closures of local schools US4411-401PM Pic by Paul Murphy
LISBURN City Council has backed the fight against the closure of two local schools.
The emotive issue won cross-party support at Tuesday's monthly meeting at which presentations were made by head teachers and concerned parents against the axing of Knockmore Primary School and Dunmurry High School in August 2012.
The Council heard presentations from Acting Principal, Mrs. Pamela Jones and parent representative and teacher, Mrs. Fiona Darragh from Knockmore Primary School and from Mr David Mack, Parent Governor of Dunmurry High School.
The many issues raised included concerns voiced over the Seymour Hill area as one of economic need; the vulnerable children who will be affected and the loss of the long-term skills base in the Knockmore Primary School, which currently integrates its mainstream and special needs units.
Mrs. Darragh's young son Harry attends the special needs unit in Knockmore and she herself is a special needs teacher at another school. Speaking at the meeting Mrs. Darragh gave a heart felt plea to fight to keep the school which speech and language and autism units are highly regarded, open.
She said: "I am disgusted by this news. We were insulted that separate meetings were held to discuss the future of the school. The segregation tactics are appalling.
"This is one school, one building, it has one board of governors and one inspection report and this is discrimination at the highest level."
The schools are under threat of closure due to South Eastern Education and Library Board decisions.
A full debate ensued in the Council Chamber with wide cross-party support for the presentations. A notice of motion brought to the Council by Alderman Jonathan Craig, who called on the Minister for Education and the South Eastern Education and Library Board to reconsider the schools' closure, was agreed unanimously by elected members.
The Mayor, Councillor Brian Heading, commented: "There is unanimous cross- party support for Knockmore and Dunmurry schools. On behalf of Lisburn City Council I thank the speakers from the schools for the insight they provided on this highly emotive issue. The loss of the schools would have a devastating impact on current and future pupils and on the families who need and depend on the specialist expertise provided to vulnerable children in the City."
Written representations on the closures should be made to the South Eastern Education and Library Board by 16th November 2011. Lisburn City Council will be making its response in due course.
THE future of Dunmurry High School and Knockmore Primary School was raised at Stormont on Tuesday after Lagan Valley DUP Assembly member Jonathan Craig, successfully secured an Adjournment Debate.
Addressing the Assembly Mr Craig said: "Several weeks ago, the children of Dunmurry High School and Knockmore Primary School and their parents feite that they had been dealt an injustice, when the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) notified parents and teachers that it was its intention to close the schools at the end of this academic year.
"Both proposed closures have devastated the local communities and have left parents and children with very few options. Here we have two schools that are central to the communities in which they are situated and have served those communities well over their lifetime. Both schools offer a hub for the community through the opening up of their buildings for use by the community outside school hours. The decision to close them therefore comes as a blow not only to the parents, teachers and children but to the community as a whole.
"The most disappointing thing is that Knockmore Primary School is a good and viable school. It has excelled despite the pressure the board has placed on it by putting everyone at the school on a temporary contract. Exactly one year ago, the school came out with excellent results following an inspection. Given the criteria outlined by the Minister, one has to ask why this school has been targeted. Why is the special needs unit being separated from the mainstream school when, in truth, according to what the teachers and parents have to say, both are integral?
Lagan Valley MLA Mr Trevor Lunn welcomed the debate saying: "There is widespread dismay among the parents, pupils and staff of both schools. I am also glad that he took some time to lay out the process for improvement, which the Department does not seem to have followed very rigidly."
Lagan Valley MLA , Alderman Paul Givan said: "I am concerned about why Knockmore Primary School has been singled out. There are a number of urban schools in the general locality in Lisburn. Why is there not a comprehensive review of all primary schools in that small section of Lisburn? The education standards and teaching in those schools could be looked at and a decision taken on the best way forward."
He also asked the question: "Why are the commissioners still in place in the South Eastern Education and Library Board? Why are we being discriminated against in a way that no other education and Library board area is being treated, with unelected and unaccountable commissioners taking these types of decisions?
Lagan Valley MLA Mr Edwin Poots commented: "There are two issues before us, the first of which is Dunmurry High School. I recognise that it is a failing school. Why has it been allowed to fail? Knockmore Primary School is a different case. The South Eastern Education and Library Board has acted wholly inappropriately. The school was meeting standards and did not fall below the thresholds set out by the Minister a few weeks ago. I actually agree with those thresholds, but Knockmore Primary School did not fall below the thresholds in respect of either numbers or the return given to pupils.
"The way Knockmore Primary School has been dealt with, in particular, has been wholly inappropriate, and as a consequence of their behaviour on this matter, great violence has been done to it and to children with disabilities."
Education Minister Mr O'Dowd responded saying: "There are two different issues. Each was examined by the board around bringing forward development proposals but they are two unique and different issues.
"Again, no decision has been made on Knockmore. I will look at all the information províded to me on Knockmore. I listened to the comments of Members and I have no doubt that I will receive more comments as the process goes on. However, I think it was a mistake to bring both schools forward together. In my own mind, however, I have separated them, and I will, as with all development proposals, be able to make a decision on the basis of the development proposal."