UFU disappointed by plans to close rural schools

Wednesday, 20 March, 2013

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has expressed disappointment following the announcement yesterday (19th March) that a number of rural schools are earmarked for closure.

UFU President Harry Sinclair said; “The UFU is extremely disappointed that a number of rural schools have been earmarked for closure. Rural schools are at the very heart of the rural community and their continued operation is essential if rural areas are to thrive and flourish. Closing a rural school that is performing well but simply has lower numbers, by virtue of its remote location, should be an absolute last resort, after all other possibilities are exhausted. The UFU firmly believes that there are a number of creative alternatives that could be employed to keep these schools open. School buildings could be used to provide a variety of services to the local community beyond the traditional school day, such as a meeting venue, a gym, and a location for evening classes. Resources could also be shared between schools, in the style of shared education, to help reduce costs, for example by sharing staff, equipment, facilities, and transport. 

“I have a number of concerns should these rural schools be closed. The threat of closure will deter pupils from enrolling and this in-turn would ultimately have a snowball effect on the rural community and businesses. The physical safety and overall wellbeing of rural children is a real concern as they will more than likely have to travel longer distances resulting in getting on and off the bus in the dark, spending less social time with family and friends, and missing out on after school activities. Rural schools also provide employment. Closing these schools means the loss of jobs and the possibility of people moving away from the area, leading to the deprivation of a rural area.

“From the outset, we have argued that a ‘one size fits all’ audit policy would not be able to take account of the value and quality offered by rural schools. Pupil numbers should not be used as a major consideration for closing a school. Many rural schools with numbers below the viability report recommendation are at the top of the leader board when it comes to results. The suggestion to close these rural schools flies in the face of the Rural White Paper Action Plan, which aims to ensure that ‘rural dwellers enjoy the same quality of life as all others in the region’ and to support ‘vibrant and strong rural communities’. The government should instead be committed to protecting rural schools and their unique place in rural communities by seizing the opportunity for these schools to deliver even more for the rural community in which they are situated. The UFU will be feeding our views into the consultation and I am strongly urging the Minister for Education to seriously reconsider closing these rural schools, as the impact on these communities could be disastrous.”