Two small rural primary schools have been earmarked for closure next year, despite consistent opposition from the local community with one consultation respondent warning: “Close the school and you kill the rural community.”
Lack Primary School and Queen Elizabeth II Primary School, Kilskeery are both facing closure following a proposal to discontinue both schools as part of area planning by the Education Authority (EA).
Both schools fall below the minimum threshold of 105 pupils for a rural primary school, Lack P.S. has 22 pupils and Queen Elizabeth II has 38 pupils.
Principal of Lack P.S., Sandra Johnston said the school community is “devastated” to be named in the Case for Change proposals.
“Lots of my colleagues would have went to the school themselves, it is very much in the heart of the community. We are devastated to be named in the case for change document and even though we are a small school we are still a central part of the community.
“We strive to educate our children well.”
However, the school plans to fight these changes from the EA, Mrs. Johnston said: “Staff, pupils, parents, board of governors and the local community will work together against this proposal to discontinue our school and show we are vital to the community.”
Expressing the disappointment felt by the school community, she said: “It’s not a job to us, it’s very much part of our lives. A small school is a large family.”
A statutory consultation on the proposal to “discontinue” Lack P.S. took place earlier this year and it received 72 responses to the proposal to close Lack P.S., 66 responses disagreeing with the proposal, five agreeing with the proposal and one response of ‘neither agree or disagree’.
Responses came from parents and guardians, staff, past pupils, political representatives, the Board of Governors of St Joseph’s PS, Ederney, the Ulster Farmers Union and Lack Community Group.
Many of the responses disagreeing with the proposal expressed concern for the “detrimental impact” on the village of Lack.
One response disagreeing with the proposal detailed in the EA document stated: “Without the school in the village, another local community is robbed of services, and it lessens the possibility of growth and development in the area. Close the school and you kill the rural community.”
Other respondents praised the school and its past pupils: “Lack PS is acknowledged to provide a high standard of education to its pupils and this has been consistent throughout its history.
“Many children who have attended have gone on to achieve successful careers and there is no doubt that their grounding for such success was developed during their time at the school, and this is why it is held in the highest regard by [the] local community.”
Responses from pupils were also published with pupils disagreeing with the proposal to close their school, with one response stating: “The good thing about a small school is that you may know a lot of people in other classes too. I really hope you listen, I want this school to stay open.”
Other comments featuring the voices of the pupils expressed their love of being in a classroom with other children and how older children help younger ones.
One response from a pupil detailed in the Case for Change document stated: “It’s a chance to listen to the older children work so you are more confident when you attempt it. Also when there is P7s in the classes that means they can help P5 and P6 with their work as they have done it in the past.”
They also expressed how much they enjoyed fundraising for charity as well as after schools clubs: “After school clubs make you confident for sports, art, science and cooking”, one stated.
One pupil stated: “I like my small class. I don’t like a lot of noise and I need to know what is happening and when. I would not like to move to a new school as it would be really quite frightening.”
The Statutory Consultation on the proposal to ‘discontinue’ Queen Elizabeth II Primary School took place earlier this year.
The consultation received 127 responses, 123 responses disagreed with the proposal, three agreed and one respondent stated a response of ‘neither agree nor disagree’.
A spokesperson for Queen Elizabeth II Primary School was approached by this newspaper yesterday afternoon on the issue of the proposal and declined to comment.
A consultation response from one of its pupils stressed that “bigger does not always mean best” and stated: “I have loved my time at Queen Elizabeth II Primary School, as did my Granny who attended 60 years ago. Queen Elizabeth II Primary School has given me friendships and [the] confidence to move into secondary school.
“During the Covid pandemic, Queen Elizabeth II Primary School became my second home. The large outdoor space really helped my emotions and reduced my stress as it was a safe place. Bigger does not always mean best.”
In addition, the EA consultation document reported that three pictures from pupils were also submitted.
Another pupil stated in their response that the teachers are “the best teachers in the world”
One response stated: “My mum would say if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Queen Elizabeth II PS is a great school and does not need closing down!”
A ‘Statutory Objection Period’ will now run for two months before a decision is reached in February 2024.