Dungiven principal’s plea to parents: ‘Have faith in our school’

St. Patrick's College, Dungiven Principal, Michael Gormley.
St. Patrick's College, Dungiven Principal, Michael Gormley.

The principal of St. Patrick’s College in Dungiven has appealed to parents to “have faith” in the school.

Michael Gormley spoke out after publication of the Education Authority’s ‘Providing Pathways Strategic Area Plan for School Provision 2017-2020,’ which revealed more than 30 schools across the north could close or merge, subject to consultation.

St. Patrick's College, Dungiven.

St. Patrick's College, Dungiven.

The school has been identified as having an issue with sustainability, which Mr. Gormley said had come as a surprise.

He urged parents of existing pupils and parents of prospective students to “have faith in the school.”

“The message has to get out now; people have to hold steady and continue to support the school because, if they don’t, in two or three years time, because people have worried and left, it becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy. It’s the next six months that will make the difference,” he maintained.

Mr. Gormley said for the last number of years, the school’s enrolment has shown an upward trend.

The message has to get out now; people have to hold steady and continue to support the school

Michael Gormley, principal of St. Patrick’s College, Dungiven,

“In September, 2016 over 72 per cent of the transferring pupils in this area chose to attend our school. In September 2017 more than 50 new Year 8 pupils will be welcomed into our school community,” he confirmed.

“We have consistently run an acceptable surplus, currently 4.5 per cent, in our budget whilst at the same time producing examination results well above the Northern Ireland average.

“This Year 65 per cent of our leavers achieved five or more GCSE grades at A*-C, including GCSE Maths and English; the 2015 Northern Ireland average was 46.8 per cent. “

Mr. Gormley said the school is “more than meeting the needs of the local community we serve within all legislative requirements and within a very tight budget provision.

“What do they want?

“Do they want Dungiven to disappear?” he asked.

“If the decision to include our school in the Educational Authority’s Annual Action Plan for School Provision document, it has been taken purely on the size of our enrolment.

“If that is the case, then it is a very sad day for this part of Ireland to be punished, by the state, for having the temerity to be small and successful,” concluded the St. Patrick’s College principal.

The plan, created in conjunction with the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and other sectoral support bodies, contains action plans for schools across the 11 local government districts. It reveals in 2016, 36 per cent of the north’s 827 primary schools had fewer than 105 pupils.

Mr. Gormley said St. Patrick’s College was “living well within our means, producing high quality results and producing highly skilled and well motivated young people, and we will continue to do that.”

He said the proposal was “made by people not from the locality and, the only way it will be fulfilled is if people don’t stick with us.”

“If people continue to do what they’ve been doing over the years, we’ll be okay,” he said, adding that the timing of the report had caused anxiety among staff, students and parents.

Mr. Gormley said St. Patrick’s College, Dungiven, will engage with CCMS and the Education Authority “to ensure that we continue to provide for the educational needs of all our young people in the future.”

One local parent with children at the school said she was shocked when she heard St. Patrick’s College had been selected to be included in the Annual Action Plan for School Provision published by the Education Authoritity (EA).

“People are saying how can this happen? Well, don’t let it happen,” she said. “My children are doing well at the school and, I know there is parental choice, but people need to give the school a chance. St. Patrick’s will give their children a good start in their education. Call into the Open Days and chat to the staff,” added the parent.

“The school is successful and I feel it’s being punished because it’s small and successful. I am confident my children are being catered for and, I know for a fact staff are genuinely caring. I know teachers who come into school on their days off to help students and after school too. Where else would you get that?”

Another parent said: “Choosing a post primary school for your child is a very difficult decision. Having looked at all schools in our area and deciding St Patrick’s College was the best school to send our daughter to. It has exceeded our expectations.

“We are shocked and disheartened at this publication. I can honestly say that the school has already proved we made the right decision, she is loving school and not only is she achieving more than we expected academically, her confidence has soared. We will have no hesitation in sending our other two children or recommending St Patrick’s to other parents.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Sean McGlinchey said: “We need to do what we did with the Dungiven Sports Project and that is to get the entire community to pull together and suport St. Patrick’s College. Obviously, we have to see what the outcome of the consultation is, but I would urge everyone to continue with their support for the school, which serves this community very well.”