‘Education at Ballee inadequate’ - Minister

Antrim County Hall. BT49-006JM.
Antrim County Hall. BT49-006JM.

Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has approved the closure of Ballee Community High School and the expansion of Dunclug College, both in Ballymena.

Dunclug College’s approved enrolment will increase from 600 to 840 pupils, through an increase in its year 8 admissions number from 110 to 140 pupils.

The changes were proposed by the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) and will take effect from 31 August 2014 or as soon as possible after that date.

Commenting on the decision, the Minister said: “These proposals are in line with the planned future pattern of controlled post-primary provision in the Ballymena area, as outlined in the NEELB Area Plan.

“Ballee CHS has experienced a significant decline in enrolments in recent years, such that the school is no longer sustainable. Furthermore, the standard of provision at the school has been of insufficient quality since March 2010 when it entered my Department’s formal intervention programme. Despite the Board putting an action plan in place and the school receiving significant support, the Education and Training Inspectorate last year found that, overall, the quality of education at Ballee remains inadequate.

“Consider also the fact that the school is carrying a significant financial deficit and it is clear that it is simply no longer sustainable in terms of quality education, enrolment or finance.

“The best option for children in the area, therefore, is to approve the proposal to close the school. The NEELB will be responsible for managing the process of closure and all the associated issues that arise.”

Turning to the decision to increase enrolment at Dunclug College, the Minister said: “Dunclug College has experienced a steady rise in demand for places in recent years and I am satisfied that increasing the school’s enrolment to 840, and the admissions number to 140, will address this demand. I am not, however, persuaded to approve the element of the proposal to increase the enrolment to 935 pupils by 2025 as demand 10 years ahead cannot be accurately predicted in the absence of the plan for the whole area.

“The growth at Dunclug will be managed by the NEELB, taking into account other schools in the area.”

Concluding, the Minister said: “It would have been preferable if proposals relating to the whole area had been published simultaneously by the Board. This would have assisted the consideration of these proposed changes. However a decision was needed to ensure that sustainable, quality education is available to the young people in the area. I would expect the NEELB to bring forward the remaining proposals at the same time to complete the reshaping of education provision at the earliest opportunity.

“My approval of these proposals represents a positive step forward for post-primary provision in Ballymena and is in the best educational interest of children in the locality. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff at Ballee Community High School who have shown dedication and commitment to the pupils at the school over many years.”