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Decision taken to close the only integrated primary school on Derry's cityside

Groarty I.P.S. pupils

Groarty I.P.S. pupils hold protest outside Guildhall last April

The Minister of Education has decided that a 150-year-old Derry school will close next year.

Last year, the Education Authority (EA) proposed discontinuing Groarty Controlled Integrated Primary School because of the low number of pupils at the school.  

Groarty is the only integrated school on Derry's cityside.

The proposal has now been agreed to by the Minister of Education Peter Weir.

It had originally been proposed that the school would close at the end of August 2020.

However, the closure date has been extended to August 2021.

Mr Weir said: "Having weighed up all the information, including the fact that 7 of the 17 pupils will be exiting P7, with no new intake for 2019-20 or September 2020, it is clear that unfortunately the school is not sustainable, and that provision for any pupils in an integrated setting can be made elsewhere in the city."

The school has been a part of the local community for over 150 years.

It attained integrated status in 2006.

A final decision regarding its closure was expected to be made by the department and Mr Weir at the beginning of this year.

However, the decision was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of pupils at the school has fluctuated over time but has not risen above 41 in the past ten years.

Ahead of the 2018/19 school year - before proposals were announced to close - 32 pupils enrolled.

Following that decision, numerous parents took the decision to transfer their children to other schools which was reflected in enrolment figures of just 17 for the 2019/20 school year.

The EA proposed closing Groarty Integrated Primary School, situated on the Coshquin Road, at the end of August 2020.

Parents were ‘devastated’ when first informed of the plans on April 4, 2019.

Schoolchildren from the school then hand delivered letters to then education chief, Derek Baker, when he visited Derry’s Guildhall imploring him to reconsider.

The school has a capacity for 74 pupils and it was anticipated that by transforming from a controlled primary school to a controlled integrated primary school in 2006 that numbers were going to swell. 

A consultation received 18 objections from amongst others the Board of Governors, staff, parents, a local resident and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.

Points include the fact it is the only integrated primary school in the cityside and considerable distance to the other one, Oakgrove IPS, in the Waterside.

The school caters for children with special needs and has a strong shared educational programme with Gaelscoil na Daróige.

The case was also made that housing developments are planned for the area which could improve numbers.

However, the EA says that other schools close to Groarty, such as Irish Medium School Gaelscoil na Daróige and Catholic Maintained Schools St Eithne’s and Holy Family have many unfilled places.

The EA argues that the school ‘does not operate within its in-year budget’, the school’s enrolment falls ‘well short’ of the Sustainable Schools Policy criteria for primary schools, set at 105 pupils for a rural school and 140 pupils for an urban school.

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