The Ulster Farmers’ Union says rural schools could lose out as a result of the Sustainable Schools Policy launched by the education minister, Peter Weir.
UFU deputy president, Ivor Ferguson, said that while the availability of high quality education across Northern Ireland was crucial, policies needed to reflect the reality of life in rural areas.
“The statement does not mention the Executive’s rural proofing policy or the Rural White Paper. This concerns us, and we need to be reassured that these policies have been taken account of in drawing up the proposals. Given the small size of many rural schools, the policy has the potential to disproportionally impact rural communities,” said Mr Ferguson.
The UFU says that while it accepts the importance of educational attainment, it is also important that policies take account of the wider well-being of children. “Living in a rural community is very different from life in an urban area. In cities, children can walk to schools and other amenities, but in rural areas they often have to travel long distances for the same opportunities. Closing schools in rural areas could mean a child will have longer distances to travel, and this will ultimately impact their social, physical and emotional well-being,” said Mr Ferguson.
The Union met recently with officials from the Department of Education around this issue and will be feeding in its views to the consultation.