Following a presentation by school principal Damian O’Kane and Chair of the Board of Governors, Kathleen Doherty, Aontu Councillor Emmet Doyle criticised the Education Authority for engaging with the school and parents to inform them of the details of the pre-consultation via Zoom.
He said: “I know that other members were very annoyed at that and would say the same thing. This is a school that plays a massive part in the lives of parents, children and the wider community and to engage in a consultation or pre consultation via Zoom, it’s just not on.
Councillor Doyle added: “I’ve made a representation to the Department and I know others have as well but again I’ve had parents last week sending me copies of emails they sent to the Area Planning email address for them to bounce back.
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“I wonder to myself at times if the EA are tying both the hands and feet of supporters of the school when it comes to bringing forward the supportive comments for it.”
Congratulating the school, parents and governors on the campaign they are running to save the school, the Ballyarnett councillor stated: “I’m very much in support of Ballougry Primary School and I know most of my colleagues here are, if not all.
“ We are behind you all the way and we want to send a clear message to the EA today, we will not abandon Ballougry Primary School.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue called for the Education Authority to stop the process, adding: “From our point of view, we think Ballougry Primary School should be given the chance to prove itself, the pre-consultation has been premature.
Proposing the council’s draft response to the pre-consultation was approved, SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney called for the Education Authority to work with the school to help it achieve its full potential.
Referring to the draft response, which urges the Education Authority to defer any decisions on the future of Ballougry Primary School pending consideration by a relevant Minister for Education of a restored Northern Ireland Executive, he said: “I think anyone who reads it can see that the council are in full support of Ballougry School.
“We have outlined a number of things we think the EA should do to work with and support the school and that way they’re not only supporting the school, they are supporting the wider community.
“Education is the cornerstone of any community and it’s very clear to me that Ballougry Primary School is on a journey.
“They are very confident that they can get there but they need the help and support, they need the tools from the EA, they don’t need to be doing this with one hand tied behind their back.
“I’m happy, on behalf of the SDLP, to support the staff, the pupils, the governors and the wider community of Ballougry to do all we can to ensure this process is halted right away.”
Giving his ‘whole hearted support’, UUP Alderman Derek Hussey said ‘the school has the full support of Derry City and Strabane District Council.’
“This is a viable school that has shown an upward trend and that needs to be encouraged,” he said: “I support Councillor Tierney’s motion that the consultation be suspended and the school be allowed the space to rejuvenate and continue.”
Addressing the committee following the debate, school principal Damian O’Kane said: “We, as a Board of Governors, feel there was a lack of consultation. Any of the consultation done with parents, staff and governors was done via Zoom in the first instance.
“It’s a monumental decision to close a school and particularly for our parents to have it dropped upon them like that with a week’s notice of a Zoom meeting wasn’t appropriate.
“Secondly and critically, it’s been mentioned a number of times about children and their rights and how important that is for schools and how important it should be for policy and decision making.
“There were no child friendly opportunities for children to respond to this process and I actually had a parent in my office who was told by the Education Authority that their child in Primary 2 could write a letter or read the Powerpoint and that would be their way to respond.
“We, as a school, took the decision to make our own way for the children to respond and I hand delivered those responses to the Education Authority in Antrim. If we are going to talk about the rights of the child, about them having a voice and being central to every decision that EA makes, then surely they should be central to any response about anything to do with their school. For a decision of this magnitude to be made without their input seems incredibly unfair.”
By Gillian Anderson
Local Democracy Reporter