Principal moves to reassure parents over school ‘closure risk’

ONE local principal has moved to reassure parents that, despite failing to meet certain criteria set out by the Department of Education, his school will fight any attempt to shut it down.

Alastair Rowan, principal of Sperrin Integrated School in Magherafelt, said parents had contacted the school questioning its future following the publication of figures relating to grades and attendance.

The most recent available attendance records, relating to the year 2009/2010, show that Sperrin Integrated has 475 pupils enrolled at the school - 25 less than the requisite 500.

While financial records were not published, the percentage of pupils obtaining grades A*-C at GSCE level is 74 per cent for the year 2009/2010 which is above the Northern Ireland average.

While there was no suggestion in the investigation done by the Irish News that the schools mentioned will close, Mr Rowan said he felt strongly about defending his school in light of the information published.

He said: “Sperrin Integrated College has grown from its inception in 2002 to a 2011 figure of 495 pupils with an 80 per cent figure for 5 A*-C. This figure is well above the average for non-selective schools in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Rowan also pointed to a Department of Education-imposed cap on the number of Year Eight pupils enrolled at the school as being a reason for the below-par attendance figure.

“The school would be much bigger in terms of pupil population if the Department of Education had not themselves capped our intake number for Year Eight pupils to 80,” he said. “We have had significantly more than this number of applicants for each of the last five years.”

“I was pleased to hear the Education Minister suggest that popular oversubscribed schools may be allowed to grow further, because this means that we at Sperrin will be able to ask for an increased number of places in order to accommodate the oversubscription at both first year and sixth form in the future.”

Mr Rowan said the school was rated “very good” last year following an inspection by the Education and Training Inspectorate.

“All of these facts mean that the local community can have absolute confidence that Sperrin will not only continue to exist but will grow and thrive in its ‘Pursuit of Excellence’, which is the school’s strap line for this, our tenth anniversary year’s Action Plan.”

St Colm’s in Draperstown was also listed as one of the schools at risk of closure for its failure to meet certain criteria set out by the Department of Education.

Local SDLP councillor Kate Lagan said she was fully supportive of St Colm’s and the role it plays in the local community.

“This is one of the most successful schools in South Derry,” she said. “It is oversubscribed each September because of the value that the people of Draperstown and beyond, place on the education their children receive in St Colm’s.”