Special schools’ merger plan could be ‘harmful’ to kids

(2305SL52)
(2305SL52)

Controversial plans to merge two local special schools could prove “harmful” to the interests of kids at both schools.

This is the view of a group of parents of children at Belmont House School opposed to the amalgamation move.

The parents now want Education Minister John O’Dowd to clarify what the future holds for Belmont and its pupils.

Earlier this year, education chiefs locally confirmed that a development proposal to amalgamate Belmont House and Foyle View School - both located within yards of each other at Racecourse Road - was being taking forward.

It also emerged that the Foyle View Board of Governors had asked the Western Education Board (WELB) to take forward the development proposal, subject to Ministerial approval, to propose a merger with effect from September 2014.

A spokesperson for the Belmont parents’ group told the ‘Journal this week that they were increasingly concerned for their kids’ well-being.

“The quality of their education is of critical importance to them and, therefore, to us,” said the parents’ representative. “It is our fear that the merger proposed by the Board would mean a loss of services, disruption to the school and distress for our children.

“We believe that the expertise acquired by staff at Belmont House School has enabled our children - all of whom have Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD) - to realise their fullest potential. We doubt the wisdom of amalgamating MLD and SLD (Severe Learning Difficulties) provision, believing it would be disadvantageous to pupils in both.

“We fear that a merged school would fail to meet our children’s needs, increase stigmatisation of pupils and lead to a future ‘winding down’ of MLD provision in the Derry area.”

Just last summer, John O’Dowd announced a £7.4 million investment package for a new build school for Belmont House.

The Belmont parents how want the Education Minister to “live up to his commitment” to support their kids “now, when they need his help.”

The spokesperson added: “In light of the WELB’s proposal, our optimism of last summer has been shattered and replaced by doubt and uncertainty. We call on Minister O’Dowd to state clearly what his future plans are for Belmont House School. More importantly, we want to know what the future holds for our children, and for the pupils of Foyle View, whose future is equally uncertain.”

The group has invited the Minister to meet them to “hear at first hand” their concerns for their children’s educational development and fears over the proposed amalgamation.