High court reprieve for under threat Dungannon Primary School

Clintyclay PS in Clonmore
Clintyclay PS in Clonmore

A campaign group fighting against the closure of a Dungannon primary school is hoping that the school will be reopened as an integrated school in September following the latest successful court battle.

Judgement has been reserved in Education Minister John O’Dowd’s appeal against the quashing of his decision to shut Clintyclay Primary School which is attempting to be the first in Northern Ireland to transform to integrated status.

Earlier this year the High Court ruled he relied on erroneous information that the school was in financial difficulties when approving a proposal for its closure.

The verdict appeared to offer a reprieve to the school.

But lawyers for the minister have now mounted a challenge to the finding against him, arguing that it costs far more to run than others in Northern Ireland.

One of the members of the campaign group said that the families were confident that the High Court’s decision will now be upheld.

“We are greatly heartened by the decision to reserve judgement, and that the judges will agree that the original decision was erroneous”, he said. “We are expecting a final decision very soon.”

“The fact that the Lord Chief Justice is the central figure in the appeal process shows that they are treating the case with the utmost importance. After all, this decision will affect the future of every other primary school threatened with closure in the country.”

The campaign group has also revealed that enrolments at the school, which had dropped below 30 children, have now increased.

“The publicity surrounding these successive court cases has obviously done the school good, and we are seeing an increase in pupil numbers.

“We are confident that we will reopen as an in integrated school next September, although a lot of development work has to be done in the meantime.

“The school committee are in a kind of limbo at the moment, waiting for the final court decision to come through.”

The school’s future was plunged into doubt last year after the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) proposed its closure.

An alternative proposal by the Board of Governors to change to grant-maintained integrated status was rejected.

At the time of the minister’s announcement, in October last year, he said enrolment levels meant it was no longer sustainable and transformation to integrated status was not a feasible option.

Parents sought a judicial review, arguing that the decision should have been deferred until a full assessment of integrated status was completed.

In March, the High Court held that the minister based his decision on advice given to him which was “infected” by an erroneous CCMS report and said, rather than facing financial difficulties, the school in fact had a budget surplus.