Battle to save rural schools continues

Pictured (left to right)  Sean Mc Auley, FFA, William Taylor, FFA, Philip McGuigan MLA, Peter Weir, Minister for Education, Claire Deans, Barnish PS Chairperson, Colette McVeigh, Barnish Board of Governors, Mervyn Storey MLAPictured (left to right)  Sean Mc Auley, FFA, William Taylor, FFA, Philip McGuigan MLA, Peter Weir, Minister for Education, Claire Deans, Barnish PS Chairperson, Colette McVeigh, Barnish Board of Governors, Mervyn Storey MLA
Pictured (left to right) Sean Mc Auley, FFA, William Taylor, FFA, Philip McGuigan MLA, Peter Weir, Minister for Education, Claire Deans, Barnish PS Chairperson, Colette McVeigh, Barnish Board of Governors, Mervyn Storey MLA | Freelance
Farmers For Action were invited to meet Education Minister Peter Weir at Stormont by Barnish Primary School near Ballycastle on Wednesday morning (26th February).

In a statement FFA say Barnish is one example of the position many NI rural schools and others find themselves in, having had the initial blow in the press two years plus ago that their school was being considered for closure in this case by CCMS.

With widespread support from across the communities, MLAs, parents Governors, teachers, FFA and other farm organisations Barnish are fighting back to go integrated.

In Barnish’s case like many others time is short therefore the Minister was asked if extra time will be given to let Barnish’s case for integration complete and be delivered to his desk. Mr Weir confirmed yes, at which time the decision to allow Barnish to remain open or closed will depend on the case put.

The Barnish delegation including Colette McVeigh, Board of Governors, pointed out that class sizes in Ballycastle were at 35 pupils in many cases when ideally they should be at 30, therefore, no more capacity is available in the town.

In addition FFA asked what was wrong with pupils at the edge of the towns attending the rural schools?

Mr Weir asked if Barnish was to stay open how would they futureproof the school. Barnish’s chairperson Claire Deans, a native from England, a few years back arrived in Ballycastle to live with her young family. She pointed out to Mr Weir that she had checked out the local schools including OFSTED reports and concluded Barnish was the clear leader for her children. In the last two years people have driven past the school perhaps assuming closure was a done deal but now new hope in reversing this trend in the knowledge that the school intends to go integrated which would free it up to recruit and add a nursery school, continue its music teaching, build up its numbers over the next few years with enthusiasm in the knowledge of having its future secured.

This brought the meeting to the point where FFA asked the Minister on the day that Barnish’s case arrives on his desk does he have the money to keep the school open? His answer was to point out that the £500 million obtained by his predecessor was for new builds over the following 10 years from 2016, therefore, money for schools going integrated wouldn’t be fresh start money but purely capital.

Mervyn Storey, MLA stated that the NI Rural Proofing Bill was not robust enough to protect rural communities and this is a huge issue. Philip McGuigan MLA stated this is also part of the bigger picture, first of all the rural school goes then everything else goes.

FFA’s William Taylor pointed out to Mr Weir that rural communities cannot afford any more destruction especially since farm incomes have taken another dive way below the cost of production and to remember that on the days Barnish’s and other schools’ future files are on his desk for a final decision that he can keep them open as the cost per pupil will be the same when new builds at town schools are factored in and that Mr Weir’s choice will be to keep the rural schools open or return the wrecking ball to the countryside.

To conclude, Sean McAuley FFA stated: “We cannot emphasis enough that rural schools fighting their battles to stay open and perhaps going down the integrated route must lay out their plan for growth over the next five to eight years clearly with perhaps a graph showing their plan for growth with everything as detailed as possible, to show and prove a bright future for their rural school!”

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