Board urged to make swift decision on site for new school

Monkstown Community School has been identified as the NEELB's preferred site for the new post-primary school.
Monkstown Community School has been identified as the NEELB's preferred site for the new post-primary school.

Monkstown Community School and Newtownabbey Community High have called on the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) to progress their planned merger.

Education Minister John O’Dowd this week approved the Board’s proposal for the closure of both schools and the creation of a new post-primary school for the area.

The new school, which could be called Abbey Community College, will cater for more than 800 young people aged 11 - 19 years. However, opinion remains divided over the Board’s plan to site the new school in Monkstown, with some calling for it to be located in Rathcoole.

The Minister’s decision to approve the amalgamation from September 2014, or as soon as possible thereafter, has been welcomed by staff and governors at both schools. And they have now called on the NEELB to make a swift decision on the site for the new school so that the merger can be progressed.

Approving the Board’s proposal, Mr O’Dowd said: “Both schools are currently carrying significant numbers of unfilled places. The amalgamation will result in a new, single, sustainable school to cater for the pupils currently attending both existing schools.

“My department will liaise with NEELB to ensure that areas identified for improvement in the November 2012 inspection report and post-inspection action plan for Monkstown Community School that are relevant to the new school continue to be addressed. My department will also request that the Education and Training Inspectorate undertakes a baseline inspection of the new school in its second year of operation to evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of the amalgamation plans.”

With opinion divided over whether the new school should be located at the Monkstown site on Bridge Road, or at Newtownabbey Community High in Rathcoole, the Minister stressed that a decision on that issue will be taken by the Board.

“The location of the new amalgamated school is a matter for the NEELB. I understand the Board’s intention is to locate the school on the current Monkstown site.

“I have no doubt the schools’ staff and parents will work collectively to make this new school for the area a success and to ensure a smooth transition for all pupils involved,” he added.

A statement issued by Monkstown Community School’s board of governors welcomed the Minister’s approval decision, and called on the Board to resolve the ongoing uncertainty over the site of the new school.

“While disappointed that the situation regarding the location of the school has yet to be resolved, we remain committed to and excited about the future. We are eager to press ahead and develop a new school which will meet the needs of all the young people in the Newtownabbey area. We ask the NEELB to give this matter urgent attention, and bring resolution to the uncertainty about the site of the new school.

“As a board we would encourage parents and potential pupils to share in our vision of a new school and assure them that we will do everything in our power to bring this about.”

A statement issued by the board of governors at Newtownabbey Community High also called for a speedy resolution to the issue.

“This long-awaited decision marks the end of a determined campaign by the staff and governors of Newtownabbey Community High to achieve the deserved equality afforded by ‘amalgamation’ status. Governors, staffing groups, parents and pupils now look forward to working with their counterparts in Monkstown on plans for the new institution.

“The board of governors also warmly welcomes the opportunity to engage in further discussions with NEELB regarding the proposed site of the new school. All involved now seek speedy decisions on its location and commencement date.”

It had been hoped that the new school would open in September this year. However, given the length of time it has taken for the Board’s proposal to be approved by the department, and unresolved issues over the site, a merger this year may be unlikely.

The Times asked the NEELB when it is due to take a decision on where the new school will be located, and when the merger is likely to take place.

“The Minister has asked the North Eastern Education and Library Board to determine a site for the new school and this matter will be considered by the Board in due course.

“Board officers will be working with both schools to determine the details of the amalgamation,” a spokesperson said.