UFU discuss rural schools closure with Education Minister

Saturday, 13 April, 2013

The Ulster Farmers’ Union have written to the Minister for Education and the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Education Committee to express the Union’s disappointment and also to request a meeting, following the Publication of Strategic Area Plans Primary Provision.

UFU Deputy President Barclay Bell said; “The Area Plans have a severely detrimental affect on rural primary schools and we have a number of real concerns that we hope to raise with the Minister over the coming weeks. Although the audit was not meant to be a numbers game, it remains a fact that rural schools have come out worst affected. A disproportionate number of rural schools have been earmarked for closure or suggesting a local area solution needs to be found. In my view this clearly illustrates a significant adverse impact on rural primary schools. One of the major issues which the UFU have is that, although no final decision has been made regarding the majority of school closures, the recent announcement could have a major and immediate damaging impact on new enrolments to schools where there are suggestions for closure. This could in effect signal the death knell for many schools by eroding their sustainability.”

The UFU believes there are a number of alternatives that could be employed to keep a number of these schools open and enhance their viability. Barclay continued; “There is an opportunity for the school buildings to be used beyond a typical school day providing a variety of services such as a meeting venue, gym facilities, and a location for the delivery of evening classes. This could potentially generate an additional revenue stream for the school. Resources could also be shared between schools such as staff, equipment, facilities and transport. This would reduce costs for the school and still allow each school to maintain its own identity.”

The Northern Ireland Executives’ Rural White Paper Action Plan clearly outlines a commitment to the development of our rural areas and supporting our rural communities. Considering this commitment, the UFU firmly believes that the Department of Education should be committed to protecting rural schools and their unique place in rural communities and also seizing the opportunity for them to deliver even more for the community in which they are situated.