Northern Ireland

John O'Dowd outlines Belfast and Holywood school changes

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Media captionJohn O'Dowd said Dundonald High would remain open

The education minister has announced his plans for seven secondary schools in Belfast and Holywood.

John O'Dowd said Dundonald High, which had been facing closure, would remain open while Orangefield High will close.

Knockbreda and Newtownbreda schools will merge in September.

A proposal to create extra space for pupils at Ashfield Boys and Ashfield Girls schools has been rejected, but Priory College in Holywood will be allowed to expand slightly.

The Department of Education had been considering the fates of seven schools

Dundonald High School has low numbers, 247 pupils, and had been in formal intervention to improve its performance, but there had been a campaign against the proposal to close it.

That lobbying and local support has convinced the minister to give the school another chance.

"It is clear to me that this is a community whose young people need, and should rightly expect, to be able to access good quality secondary education," Mr O'Dowd told the assembly.

He explained that the long-term future of Dundonald High required its improvement and "it is clear that attitudes, expectations for pupils' attainment and provision will need to change".

A programme of extra support and training will be put in place to help the principal, staff and a new board of governors.

Colin Smyth, founder of the Save Dundonald High group, said the news was "absolutely fantastic".

"We worked really, really hard to keep this school open and I'd like to thank Mr O'Dowd for making the right decision, it's fantastic news," he said.

The six proposals for seven schools in the area are inter-related and Mr O'Dowd took into account the knock-on effect of any decisions he made.

A plan to create extra space for pupils at Ashfield Boys and Ashfield Girls schools has been rejected because of the risk it would damage the prospects for Dundonald and other schools in the area.


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Media captionThe news that Dundonald High was to remain open was told to pupils at a special assembly

Ashfield Boys, which currently has 666 pupils, had wanted to increase its pupil numbers to 850 by 2018, while Ashfield Girls, which now has 708 pupils, had wanted to raise its intake to 900.

However, Priory College in Holywood, which has 500 pupils, has been given the go-ahead to expand expand slightly, but not to the 600 pupil size which had been proposed.

A merger of two other controlled secondary's in the area, Knockbreda and Newtownbreda, has been approved and will happen in September this year.

The amalgamated school, of 1,000 pupils, will operate on a split site with the eventual aim of a new school building.

In a statement, the governors and staff of Newtownbreda High School said they were "extremely disappointed" by the merger decision.

"The South-Eastern Education and Library Board's rationale for amalgamation is now outdated as Newtownbreda High School is deemed, by the Education and Training Inspectorate, to be providing a 'good' quality of education," it said.

"For the SEELB to effectively close a 'good' school is a travesty but the staff of the school will continue to provide a quality education to all of our pupils in the years ahead."

Orangefield closure

Image caption Orangefield High School is to close in August this year

Orangefield High School has only 92 pupils and its closure will go ahead in August this year.

"With only 92 pupils remaining in Orangefield High School, it has declined in such an extent that it is no longer feasible to delay its closure," Mr O'Dowd said.

The chairman of the education committee, Mervyn Storey of the DUP, criticised the way in which the process had been handled, particularly the decision to close Orangefield High School.

The minister said he did not agree with Mr Storey's use of the word "debacle".

The SDLP's Fearghal McKinney said the amalgamation of Newtownbreda and Knockbreda High School was in reality the closure of both schools and the setting up of a new school.

"This is not about the institution. It is about the pupils," Mr O'Dowd replied.

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