The Education Authority is planning to press ahead with plans to close Kingsmills Primary School.
As revealed by Armagh I in the spring, a pre-publication consultation was launched in May to give people the chance to have their say at that stage.
But education bosses have not been swayed by any of the arguments and have now come forward with a formal development proposal.
It is intended that the school will be “discontinued with effect from August 31, 2023, or as soon as possible thereafter”.
The pre-application which started in May ended early in July and has been under consideration.
The formal proposal now means that the school – if that opinion is accepted – will cease to be exactly 150 years after the first Kingsmills School opened its doors.
As Armagh I previously reported, if agreed, the Education Authority says the closure would see an operation “cost saving inclusive of a saving of £47,426 small schools support factor”.
The development proposal will now remain live until the last week in November to allow people to have their say.
During the consultation, the Education Authority received a total of 117 responses – with all but four of a view that the school should be retained.
Dozens of reasons were cited as to why those who responded – which included staff, parents, past pupils and others – believed that Kingsmills Primary should be saved from closure.
And we thought it worthwhile to publish those reasons now for the record.
They are listed thus: “The school meets four of the six sustainability criteria and that the closure is related to the enrolment and finance of the school. The closure is driven by financial reasons and not in the best interests of the pupils.
“The Kingsmills PS pupils will struggle in larger class sizes. There would not be the same level of support. Larger class sizes put pressure on the teacher – no class should have more than 20 pupils.
“The potential impact on local post-primary schools should Kingsmills PS close. Being a small school means that the pupils know each other very well and are all friends. No one is left out in the playground or in after school activities.
“Over the years Kingsmills PS has taught many generations of the same family.
“The decline in numbers is due to poor management in the past – the current management is working hard to improve the school numbers and with help from the Education Authority the low enrolment could
be turned around.
“The quality of education statements in the consultation document does not reflect the quality of education at Kingsmills PS. Scores achieved by Kingsmills PS pupils are above the national average.
“The strong support Kingsmills PS gives to pupils with Special Educational Needs – many pupils have transferred to the school after struggling in larger schools and thrive at Kingsmills PS.
“There are greater opportunities for the staff at Kingsmills PS than they would get at larger schools.
“Extracurricular activity at the school is strong and available Monday to Thursday so it is inaccurate to say there is less opportunities.
“The closure will have a detrimental impact on the rural community. It will impact on the controlled primary provision in the South Armagh area.
“The closure would be a setback for community cohesion in the Whitecross ward area. The Shared Education relationship that has been built up has led to open and supportive relationships between pupils, staff and parents – this would be lost with the closure of Kingsmills PS.
“The ongoing threat of closure of the school has put many potential parents off from sending their children to Kingsmills PS.
“The handling of the consultation process by the Education Authority was poor.
“The cost associated with transporting pupils to a new school. Will there be help with these costs?
“There is a lack of places available in the area for the Kingsmills PS pupils.
“Kingsmills PS is a feeder primary and the closure may have an impact on Newtownhamilton HS.
“Concerns expressed the potential impact on the wellbeing of the children.
“The alternative schools identified with available places also have composite classes and the only difference is Kingsmills PS has smaller composite class sizes.
“The school came first in NI, and 2nd in UK, in Maths competition – is this not a sign of quality of education and teaching.
“Composite classes are not a negative – there are more opportunities for differentiation rather than teaching to the middle and leaving the lower/higher ability pupils to fend for themselves.”
One respondent was undecided and three were in favour of closure.
Of those responses endorsing the proposal, the more limited list of reasons argued: “Small schools use a disproportionate amount of money when compared to larger schools.
“As stated by the inspectorate more than two year groups in a classroom does not allow for as effective teaching. Also we have more staff and are just about able to keep up with all the demands for the different curricular areas – with such few staff it must put an overwhelming demand on their teachers.”
Kingsmills Primary School’s own Board of Governors also corresponded with the Education Authority and pointed out that the “current leadership and staff at Kingsmills PS are dedicated highly motivated professionals providing quality educational opportunities and teaching to the children”.
They pointed to “the important role Kingsmills PS plays in the rural community it serves” and say that “the closure would provide little material benefit to Bessbrook PS but would have an impact on the controlled sector in the South Armagh area”.
The pre-publication was discussed at a meeting of the Education Authority’s strategic planning and policy committee last month before the formal proposal was published.
And in doing so, the Education Authority has again highlighted that there is “no pre-determined outcome”.
The published notice clearly states: “The Education Authority is the proposer but not the decision maker. It is only the Minister of Education who can make the decision on a development proposal.”
Kingsmills School first opened its doors on October 1, 1873, on the site of what is now the car-park of Kingsmills Presbyterian Church.
It has been at its current location – on the Drumnahunshin Road in Whitecross – since 1958.
According to the school’s website, it consists of a main building, two mobile classrooms and several storage areas.
The school was extended in April 2013 when the building of its new multi-purpose hall was completed. A temporary building has also been added.
Now, however, education bosses are recommending the school – which currently has 32 pupils attending and an approved enrolment of 77 – should shut for good.
People can now respond to the proposal to close, which a copy of which can be inspected at the offices of the Education Authority, Grahamsbridge Road, Dundonald, BT16 1HS, between the hours of 9.00 am and 4.30 pm and online at www.eani.org.uk/school-management/area-planning.
Any objections or support to this proposal should be lodged with the Area Planning Policy Team, Department of Education, Rathgael House, Balloo Road, Bangor, Co Down, BT19 7PR or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org within two months of the date the notice was signed off on, namely September 28.
A decision would be expected shortly after the closing date with the school, if the paper is rubberstamped, closing at the end of next summer.