Concern for rural schools

Derry City Council has asked the minister of education to consider what impact the possible closure of any rural school would have on the local community.

The issue was debated at the monthly meeting of Derry City Council on Tuesday following a motion tabled by SDLP councillor Brenda Stevenson.

Colr. Stevenson said there is growing concern in rural areas that small schools may be shut because of lack of pupils. The rural councillor said the future of rural schools should not be based solely on numbers.

“We have concerns that the current approach to school rationalisation is overly reliant on a blunt numbers game.

“Let us take, for example, the arbitrary number of 105 pupils, which is the magic number that dictates whether a school is sustainable. A survey of the rural schools estate would show that many of the buildings were not built to hold 105 pupils so this needs to be carefully considered when deciding the fate of any school in this council area,” the SDLP representative said.

Sinn Féin councillor Paul Fleming proposed an amendment, warning of the danger of “scaremongering” on the future of rural schools.

“No school will be closed if it adversely impacts on primary or post primary sectors in the Derry City Council area or any area.

This is about improving the educational experience of children - it is not about saving money or creating negative impacts,” he said.

DUP Alderman Gary Middleton also proposed an amendment requesting that the motion be changed to make reference to any “viable” school. After a brief adjournment the amendments were accepted and the motion was passed.