Furious reaction to plans for Knockmore Primary
by JENNY MONROE
THERE has been a furious reaction after it was confirmed the South Eastern Education and Library Board is consulting on plans to move three special needs units from Knockmore Primary School. Last year parents, pupils, staff, politicians and the entire Lisburn community successfully campaigned against a Board plan to close Knockmore, which has been widely praised for its success in integrating several special units within the mainstream school. However at that time the Board said it would be considering moving some units.
Lisburn Council, who strongly supported the school's campaign last year, have made clear then opposition to the latest proposal and called on the Board to retain all seven units at the school.
Members unanimously agreed with a proposal by Alderman Paul Porter on Tuesday night to write to the Education Board reaffirming its support for the school and demanding a meeting to address parents' concerns. This was seconded by Councillor Stephen Martin. Members also agreed to write to the Health Minister asking if his department had been consulted considering the school has a separate speech and language unit.
Mr Porter said: "We want to make sure the concerns of parents are fully considered and what is best for the children and not the Board. "If this consultation process goes ahead parents will be left wondering through the summer what is happening. Why is the board going down this road again?" asked Mr Porter.
He continued: "The issue is choice. Many parents have made the decision to travel miles to Knockmore as it is a centre of excellence and the special needs units deliver everything their children need.
"We need to fight for these units to stay at Knockmore Primary." Councillor Alan Carlisle agreed and said: "I hope the Board is not planning to close the school piece by piece."
Councillor Jenny Palmer said she was concerned three schools have already been identified to take the special need units and said that some of the schools had already advertised they have a new unit. She said: 'All of the parents fought long and hard. This is a game the Board plays and it is an absolute disgrace."
Councillor Brian Bloomfield said: "It is no surprise that this comes at the end of term, This is the way the Boards work."
Councillor Brian Doman said; "I would be surprised if the Health Trust was happy with this." Lagan
Valley MLA Paul Givan said the Health Trust must be consulted before any decision is taken to relocate children.
He said the key issue is whether a relocation of some of the special units will deliver the best outcomes for the children and fundamental to that consideration will be the view of the Health Trust.
"The Education Board should not take any decision in isolation looking purely at the distance of travel for children as some parents would choose Knockmore ahead of other schools because of the high standard of provision and integration of all abilities at Knockmore Primary School" he said.
"This issue was discussed with the Education Minister when along with colleagues we met the Education Minister John O'Dowd and he assured us that he would expect the Board to consider the views of the Health Trust and in the Assembly I raised this matter with the Health Minister to secure his support.
"These proposals will require very close scrutiny and the haste at which the Board is pursing them in the absence of a full consultation will be challenged as the right decision rather than a rushed decision without the full information."
A spokesman for the SEELB said: "The Board is currently engaged in consultation with stakeholders regarding the relocation of three special units attached to Knockmore PS. Ongoing consultation is being held with key stakeholders including parents, staff, governors and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust."