The Education Authority (EA) has published a plan to close the school in August 2023, saying with 44-pupils and three teachers, the rural school was unsustainable.
Bringing the motion before the full meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Aontú Councillor Emmet Doyle said: “The situation at Ballougry Primary School beggars belief to be perfectly honest, there was a range of members who attended a meeting the night before the Assembly election to hear from parents, teachers and governors about the threat from the Education Authority that the school was going to be closed.
“This is being done under the auspices of the Sustainable Schools policy under six points, one of the main ones that the Education Authority (EA) for example is bringing forward as a reason to close the school is the financial situation and the enrollment trends.
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“I have to say, having worked with the Chair of the Board of Governors and the Principal over recent weeks that it’s very clear that the school has had one hand tied behind its back for a significant time leading up to this decision for pre-consultation.
“For example, with regards to stable enrollment trends Ballougry Primary School the total enrollment for 21/22 is 44 students but there are a range of other schools right across the North that range from 40…. who have around the same number of students and who aren’t being considered for closure by the Education Authority.
“The position of campaigners, students, school teachers, governors and staff is that this policy is not being applied consistently.
“Considering this is the last rural school on the cityside there is considerable impact to the lives of students who go there, the rural community in general and for the Education Authority to consider sending children who have grown up in an environment where they are in a rural setting, get a lot more one to one intensive care where they can send them to larger schools where the outcome may not be as good.”
Seconding the motion, Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson added: “The parents are all really invested in the school and they are proud to be part of the community. The school is a welcoming place for all and because of the small numbers at the school all children’s needs are being met.
“If this school closes children would have to travel into the city side or Waterside every day, there would be no other option and it takes away from that unique rural experience that these children are getting at the school.”
UUP Alderman Ryan McCready urged all members to get behind the school whilst DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney added that ‘too many times we have seen rural schools closed’.
Having also attended the meeting in May, SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney spoke of the ‘unbelievable sense of community’.
He said: ‘There is an unbelievable sense that this community were not going to be pushed over or rolled over and allow this school to close without putting up a fight.
“That school is not only a school, it is the focus, the centrepoint of their community and we need to join them and help them in any way we can to help ensure it stays open.”
Stating the main concern of her party was ensuring the ‘educational and pastoral wellbeing’ of the children was paramount, Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue added: “I also attended the meeting and the passion within the room for keeping the school open was palpable.
“As a party we have met with the school and they have assured us they have a plan for sustainability. We also had a zoom meeting as a party with EA and gave our thoughts on the matter very clearly to them and I do believe there is an onus on the EA to give the plan the school have a fair wind.”
Calling for all members of council to ‘stand in solidarity’ with the campaign at Ballougry Primary School, People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin commented: “t was very clear that there is a great school community there and a great energy to keep the school open. We have to do everything we can to help this campaign.”
Speaking about the impact the closure would have, Independent Councillor Councillor Gary Donnelly said: “This is a school that’s been open for 150 years and provides outstanding learning experiences to children.
“Ballougry is an inclusive school and one of the most inclusive schools in the district. There’s children from different religious backgrounds and cultures and to close this school will have a huge impact in particular for Protestant families in our local area who are a minority and that would be an absolute shame.”
Describing Ballougry as ‘not just a school, it is a community’, UUP Alderman Derek Hussey stated his ‘despair at the Education Authority’s corralling our children into economic units rather than to a site of educational advancement’.
The motion passed unanimously. It read: ‘That this Council recognises the exceptional education offered by Ballougry Primary School, acknowledges that the Education Authority has recently launched a pre-publication consultation which has recommended the school be closed, further recognises the detrimental impact this will have on pupils, parents, staff and the local community, and will offer the school its full support to remain open including responding to any consultations from the Authority or Department of Education and will immediately ask the Area Planning team to come before Council to hear the concerns of members.’
Council will also invite representatives from Ballougry Primary School to make a presentation to elected representatives.
Local Democracy Reporter