Parents have warned that the closure of one of Derry’s oldest primary schools could have a devastating effect on those children getting a first class education there.
Members of the Groarty Controlled Integrated Primary School community said they were gutted after the announcement that the Education Authority (EA) had begun consulting on proposals to close it down next year.
The small school, on the outskirts of Derry, has been in existence since 1865 and became the west bank’s only integrated primary school 12 years ago. It currently has an enrolment of 32 pupils, many of whom have special needs, despite an approved enrolment limit of 74.
The Education Authority report states that it was agreed at a meeting last March to commence consultation on a proposal to ‘discontinue’ the Coshquin Road school ‘with effect from August 31, 2020.’ The EA document states: “The enrolment statistics show that while the school has remained steady for the last few years, the school still presents with sustainability concerns.”
It further reports that there is ample capacity in other local primary schools to take in the affected students from Groarty and concludes that to “do nothing is not an option.”
Responding to the report Groarty Integrated said it was “a wonderful school that has met the needs of all communities over the past 150 years.
“The school community is saddened to hear that Integrated provision in the cityside is under threat. We are eager to meet with the Education Committee and Derek Baker to do as much as we can to keep our school open. Our priority, as always, is to continue to meet the needs of the children and we hope that the local community can support us in this,” they said.
Meanwhile, local parents have told the ‘Journal’ they hope the proposal will be rejected. Catherine Doran, whose son Ethan (7) attends the school said: “When people talk about a school closure it is almost as if they’re talking about a building, but what makes this school special is that this is a community, almost like an extension of your family. The ethos and atmosphere is second to none.”
Catherine added: “Many of the youngsters have additional needs and my son has moderate learning difficulties and the small school numbers is what has helped him.
“It took two years for him to get to that stage where he was happy going into school and the thought of him having to move is terrible. At Groarty the staff and the other children are very empathetic and would always make sure he is included. He has a friendship group of peers. He goes into a mainstream school and he is lost.”
She added that at a recent consultation meeting, parents had emphasised that the EA’s own vision was that every child has access to the best provision to help them to develop their full potential.
Like many other parents, Leanne Brown actually moved her 10-years-old son, Oisin, who has Autism and Dyspraxia, from another school to Groarty several years ago and said her only regret is she didn’t do it sooner. “The teachers were trying their best at the last school but it was just the big numbers and they didn’t have the time.
“Groarty is such a unique wee school and while it is a mainstream school there are lots of children with a lot of different needs and they all amalgamate and get on fantastically well together.
“The teachers are so amazing, they are like relatives, but very professional and they have fully the children’s interests at heart. The children are so nurtured and so relaxed there.
“My son is thriving there and because he has been nurtured so well he could go now and transition to the big school in Derry because he is well rounded and all his needs have been met.”
Leanne added that many local people were not aware of Groarty’s existence and, therefore, did not consider it when deciding on placements. As such, she has raised the need for funding, for publicity and promotion. She considered it a false economy closing the school claiming it was likely to result in major costs in terms of health care and one-to-one support for children affected.
Diana McLaughlin, whose daughter Arianna is in P1 and son Haiden in P4, said she and her husband would actually consider moving to her native America if the school closed and they could not find a suitable replacement.
“Both my children have come on absolutely great because it is a small school. I hate to think of them going anywhere else as I know it is going to be completely different for them. There’s 32 children in this school and they are all very, very close, like a wee family and the teachers are so nurturing and so good.”
Diana said that it was extremely important to her that the school was integrated. “I’m not saying religion in schools is a bad thing but I believe religion should be kept separate, or they should learn about a variety of religions, focus on learning to accept each other. I want to bring them up to be accepting of people and the school has always been very good at nurturing relationships. We have people of different faiths, different needs.
“We have no real plans of returning to the US but if I can’t find a suitable school it’s something I would consider. Education is so important to me,”