PARENTS have ramped up their campaign to stop the proposed closure of the only Catholic post-primary school in the Waterside.
Those behind the Save Immaculate Conception College (Save ICC) campaign said their fight is now gathering momentum as politicians from across Northern Ireland and even some clergy have pledged their support and lodged objections to the proposals.
The campaign was set up after the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools (CCMS) announced its plans to close the school last year.
Last month a formal development proposal to this affect was lodged by CCMS with the Western Education and Library Board, with a two-month public consultation exercise now taking place through until February 10th.
Under the CCMS plan, a phased closure of the Trench Road school will begin in August this year, with no further admissions for Year 8s to 11s, with the school to be shut completely by August 2015.
Sophie Mullen, one of the parents behind the campaign, said that the school had been achieving very good results in recent years and was a vital resource for Catholic children in the Waterside.
Ms Mullen, who has two children at the school in Years 8 and 12, and a third who attended Immaculate Conception College and is now at university, said:
“This is an absolutely fantastic school. My eldest came out with 11 A* to C grades and wasn’t the only one in their class who did exceptionally well.
“It has been proven that small schools are more beneficial for pupils, and every child at Immaculate Conception College gets an equal amount of attention and care.”
Ms Mullen said the Waterside college, which caters for both boys and girls, had bettered some other post-primary Catholic Schools in the cityside and matched others in the GCSE league table results last year, with 79.4% of pupils achieving grades A to C, and the school achieving one of the best ICT results in the north.
Parents said that this was achieved against a backdrop of chronic under-investment in the school.
“This is the only Catholic post-primary school in the Waterside and it has been discriminated against for years,” Ms Mullen said.
“There has been millions poured into Catholic colleges on the cityside while the only money spent here was to make sure it was up to health and safety standards- that’s it.”
The campaigning parents have said that this was in stark contrast to the situation across the Foyle, where entering some schools was described as being ‘like walking into a hotel’.
Some of the parents also said it was ‘shameful’ the way the church was allegedly turning its back on the college, and claimed it had not replied to correspondence from the group.
With the closure of St Peter’s High School, there are also concerns over demands on the resources of Catholic colleges in the cityside.
“We feel like we are on our own” Ms Mullen said. “The Catholic community is a significant minority in the Waterside, and the schools in the cityside are all over-subscribed. From a parent’s point of view, how is a child supposed to get that attention?
“The CCMS and the Minister have it in their power to change this and we are making our views very clear to them.”
A spokeswoman for CCMS responded yesterday: “CCMS is currently involved in the Department of Education’s area planning process to address the many challenges that our sector is currently facing.
“We need to address issues that our schools face through the out-workings of the Department of Education’s Sustainable Schools policy.
“This includes changing demographics which, in some areas, have led to the need to consider the future of unviable schools where the number of pupils has decreased.
“In all cases we are focused on ensuring access to high quality, viable and sustainable education provision for all the pupils that our schools serve.”
Speaking specifically about Immaculate Conception College, she added: “A statutory public consultation is now underway and this will run until February 10th.
“We are committed to engaging with all those affected by any proposals that we bring forward.
“CCMS consulted with the school community, including parents, staff and governors in May 2013 to discuss this proposal and to gather views from these groups.”
A copy of the CCMS proposal can be inspected at www.welbni.org under the
The board has advised that any comments or objections to the proposal should be made in writing, by February 16th, to the Area Planning Policy Team, Department of
Education, Rathgael House, Balloo Road, Bangor, Co Down, BT19 7PR.
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