Parents yesterday expressed anger and frustration after it emerged that the Education Authority plans to close the only integrated primary school in the city side of Derry.

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

The school currently has an enrolment of 32 pupils which is comprised of Protestant and Catholic children from both the city side and waterside.

Parents were first informed of the proposals when a letter was sent out asking them to attend a meeting with EA officials last Thursday, April 4.

One mother, Diana McLaughlin, has a son in primary 4 and a daughter in primary 1 at the school.  She has been left “devastated” by the news.

Speaking to the Derry News yesterday, she said: “To be honest, I am not surprised. We are a small school and have been in danger of this for many years.

“With everything going on politically at the moment, and money drying up everywhere and Brexit, I’m not surprised they would come after a small school now.

“I am absolutely devastated though and won’t know how to tell my children if this goes forward. They call it ‘The Little School with a Big Heart’ for a reason.”

Some parents have decided to await the outcome before telling their children, but Mrs McLaughlin gave assurances that they won’t allow the school to close without a fight.

“I think a lot are waiting to see what happens. I’m fairly certain the parents here will give a good fight...we feel very passionately about it,” she explained.

“The relationships the children have with each other and the teachers are so important. Not to mention the solid academics with such a small ratio. My son has gone strength to strength.

“I don’t know anywhere else we could have such a lovely educations for our children.”

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.  Since then however pupil numbers each year have fluctuated between 43 and 32.

The school has been a part of the local community for over 150 years.  It attained Integrated status in 2006 and is the only school with Integrated status on the West Bank of the city.

As part of a pre-publication consultation, the Education Authority is currently seeking any objections or comments on the proposed discontinuance of Groarty CIPS from the Board of Governors, parents and staff of Groarty CIPS and Trustees, and other interested parties in the local community.

The consultation document makes reference to the other integrated school in the city, Oakgrove Integrated P.S., which operates “near to or over capacity” and therefore couldn’t accommodate pupils from Groarty P.S.

It does however highlight other schools closest to Groarty P.S., such as Irish Medium School Gaelscoil na Daróige and Catholic Maintained Schools St Eithne’s and Holy Family P.S., which the EA says have many unfilled places.

The EA argues that 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.

And says in addition there are more than two year groups within a classroom as the school operates as a three teacher school.

Joint campus

The EA has a duty to encourage, facilitate and promote shared education.  And Groarty CIPS has over the past number of years engaged in Shared Education with Gaelscoil na Daróige.

Both schools made a joint submission under the Shared Education Campuses

Programme for a shared campus. However, in consideration of the numbers of Groarty CIPS and the proposed campus, the Education Authority did not endorse Groarty CIPS’s submission as it would “not provide for a sustainable education campus.”

At the time staff, parents and pupils of the two schools staged a protest march.

In justification of its proposed closure of Groarty CIPS, the EA said it believes other schools in the area can cater for the children’s educational needs and home-to-school transport will “mitigate against this impact” and provide for the safe transportation of pupils from the area to their nearest school.

Ultimately, any final decision regarding the future of Groarty Integrated P.S. has to be taken by a minister, or if devolved institutions are still not up and running, by the permanent secretary at the Department of Education by January 2020.

The closing date for the consultation process is June 13 and for those who want to have their say, you can visit: www.eani.org.uk/prepublication-consultations/groarty-ips

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