Rural school closures continue

Guest speaker Jim Nicholason, is pictured chatting to William Taylor, Farmers for Action; and Sean McAuley, vice-chairman, NIAPA. Picture: McAuley MultimediaGuest speaker Jim Nicholason, is pictured chatting to William Taylor, Farmers for Action; and Sean McAuley, vice-chairman, NIAPA. Picture: McAuley Multimedia
Guest speaker Jim Nicholason, is pictured chatting to William Taylor, Farmers for Action; and Sean McAuley, vice-chairman, NIAPA. Picture: McAuley Multimedia
Parents of children attending Barnish Primary School in the North Antrim village of Ballyvoy have been told that it will close for good in August of this year.

The decision by Education Minister Peter Weir brings to an end a heritage of teaching and educational provision at the school, stretching back over the past 80 years.

Colette McVeigh, a member of the school’s board of governors, wants the Minister to reconsider his decision.

“The school has been under threat of closure since 2019,” she said.

“The board of governors has been fighting this proposal from the outset, as have many people in the local community.

“The decision from the education minister arrived at the school on December 17th last. I believe it was strategically timed to prevent us from accepting applications from parents wishing to send their P1 children to Barnish in September of this year.”

Colette is a former pupil of the school herself and has a daughter in P5. She continued: “My father also attended Barnish. Specifically, we want Peter Weir to reconsider his decision to the effect that the school will not close during the current Covid pandemic.

“A petition to this end has already been submitted to the Minister by local MLA Philip McGuigan.”

There are currently 22 children attending the school, which has a teaching staff of three.

Colette continued: “There is plenty of room to allow the children and staff to fully comply with all the social distancing criteria now in place. This fact alone should be grounds enough for Peter Weir to allow the school to remain open, at least until the pandemic has been sorted out.”

Meanwhile, members of the Farmers For Action (FFA) steering committee are furious with DUP Minister Weir’s closure notices that have been delivered to many rural schools across Northern Ireland for 31st August 2021 over recent weeks.

FFA’s Sean McAuley said: “The closure notices have been fed out to the schools in question across Northern Ireland a few at a time under the radar of the media while they cover COVID and Brexit as a priority!”

He added: “How much more do rural communities have to suffer? Is this how the Minister rewards our food heroes?

“The last thing rural communities need is the very fabric of their communities pulled from underneath them in the closure of their local school, banks and post offices, only for those very young primary school pupils to be stressed out even more changing schools on 1st September 2021.”

FFA has followed the fortunes of two schools on the north coast for some time: Ballyhackett in Castlerock and Barnish PS in Ballycastle.

McAuley commented: “We met the Department of Education Permanent Secretary during the Stormont shutdown, which was followed-up by a meeting with Minister Weir in early 2020.

“The point was well made to Peter Weir about the valuable floor space and isolation of country schools in a pandemic. Indeed Ballyhackett and Barnish Primary Schools have confirmed the last school term was completed without COVID interruption.

“Yet this Minister goes ahead and issues a closure notice for 31st August 2021 to Barnish.”

FFA has written to the Education Minister, asking him again to halt and reverse immediately all the recently announced rural school closures.

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