Education proposals 'a smokescreen' for rural school closures warns Overend

Sandra Overend
Sandra Overend

The Education Minister has been accused of trying to make meagre savings by rationalising small rural schools and dispersing thousands of pupils.

“The proposals launched yesterday by the Education Minister have some aims and objectives that I would wholeheartedly agree with, particularly a drive to improve the quality of education provision, yet I fear there is no real substance behind this headline," said the Ulster Unionist Party Education spokesperson.

“There is much about this proposal which is deeply concerning not least that it is actually based on the Sustainable Schools Policy still lingering from two mandates ago. Given the financial context outlined in the draft it is clear that the changes proposed are motivated by the need to cut costs rather than a concern for the quality of provision.

“It is a well-known myth that closing schools which fall below the minimum pupil threshold would make the savings necessary to make a worthwhile difference. A study by the Ulster University shows that less than one percent of the entire school budget would be saved by closing small schools and dispersing thousands of pupils. Is this really worth it?

"It is another well-known myth that bigger schools equal better schools and the paper published yesterday gives no indication how their plans will actually improve quality, it is simply a presumed result of rationalisation. Many teachers in small schools will be deeply offended by that.

“Our education system currently compounds divisions in society and the creation of larger ‘super-schools’, I have no doubt, will be pursued in sectoral silos. Barriers will never be broken down by closing a school in one sector and moving pupils to another school, perhaps miles away, in the same sector.

"Instead, if the Minister had any genuine plan to pursue shared and integrated education, as stated in these proposals, he would have attached a significant pot of money for school development. He has not.

“I am greatly disappointed by the proposals put forward in this paper. The Minister has a real opportunity in this mandate to make a real difference to the lives of young people, instead he seeks to cut costs and disperse thousands of young people just to make some pretty meagre savings.”