Consultation begins over future of primary schools

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A 12-week period of consultation is under way to consider the future of two local primary schools - Ballyhenry and Mallusk.

The North Eastern Education and Library Board confirmed this week that talks with governors, staff and parents regarding proposals to amalgamate the two schools began on Tuesday, November 26.

“At a meeting of the North Eastern Education and Library Board in October 2013, officers were authorised to initiate a process of consultation on a proposal to discontinue the current provision in Ballyhenry Primary School and Mallusk Primary School to facilitate the establishment of a new Controlled Primary School,” an NEELB spokesperson explained.

“The enrolment in both schools has continued to decline over the past 10 years, with the number of pupils attending Mallusk Primary School below the minimum threshold as detailed in the Sustainable Schools Policy.

“In the 2012/13 academic year there was a combined total of 245 unfilled places in the two schools.

“Consultation with governors, staff, parents and pupils began on November 26 and will continue until February 18, 2014. This process will provide an opportunity for those who have the potential to be most closely affected by any proposed changes to the nature of provision to comment.”

The spokesperson stressed that as yet there is no set date for the proposed amalgamation, but confirmed that it won’t be possible for it to happen by September 2014.

Mallusk Primary School principal, Mrs Shirley Parkhill, confirmed that consultation had started, but said that she didn’t want to make any further comment on the issue at this stage.

Mr Robert Smith, principal of Ballyhenry Primary, was unavailable for comment at the time of going to print.

South Antrim MLA Danny Kinahan, a member of the Education Committee at Stormont, is keen to see Mallusk Primary School remain open.

While acknowledging that there are still long-term plans to merge the school with Ballyhenry Primary, he stressed that the best way to ensure the school stays open is to work to increase pupil numbers.

“We really do need more local parents to enrol their children at the school,” the UUP man told the Times.

“Mallusk is a fantastic little school that should be the very heart of the local community.”

Richard Gregory, chairman of Mallusk Community Action Group, also appealed for people to support the school.

“It is now up to parents to register their children with the school. When numbers increase, closure is less of an option, so come on, support Mallusk Primary School. It gets good Ofsted reports and all the pupils seem to be happy there,” he said.