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MORE PUPILS AND NO SPACE.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

MORE PUPILS AND NO SPACE. thumbnail With increasing enrolments and a ‘chronic shortage of space’, St Patrick’s PS in Hilltown needs a new school.

A NEW school building is needed to accommodate the growing number of children enrolled at St Patrick's Primary School in Hilltown.

That is the appeal from principal Una Lawless who believes the current 50-year-old school building is "no longer fit for purpose".

The school and its Board of Governors have written to the Department of Education requesting that the Ballymaghery school is added to the list for new school buildings.

The current school on the Castlewellan Road was designed to accommodate approximately 260 pupils, however the school now has an enrolment of 330.

Ms Lawless said: "The Department of Education policy is that children living within a two-mile radius of a school should be entitled to attend their local school, based on parental choice." She said all schools in the local area are oversubscribed at present.

"Information available on the Education Authority website as of 27 April listing schools with available places, confirms that all schools within a six-mile radius of St Patrick's PS, Hilltown are full or over-subscribed.

"This includes St Patrick's PS, Mayobridge, St Paul's PS Cabra, St Mary's PS, Rathfriland, St Patrick's PS, Drumgreenagh, Iveagh PS, Rathfriland and St Malachy's PS, Kilcoo. This means that there are no alternative school places for primary-aged children in Hilltown and the surrounding area," added Ms Lawless.

"Our current school building is more than 50 years old, it does not meet the needs of the increasing pupil population and is no longer fit for purpose. It is acknowledged that many of the flat roofs will require considerable remedial works in the coming years.

"We are in the fortunate position that there is a field behind our school which belongs to the parish. The Department of Education will be able to acquire this field from the parish and it is the perfect site for a new school build.

"We urge the Department of Education to work with us and provide us with a school building which will help us to deliver the highest quality of education which all our pupils deserve," said Ms Lawless.

Eugene Byrne, chairman of the Board of Governors at St Patrick's PS, said that while temporary accommodation will be provided in the next few months, they need a more permanent solution.

"New accommodation, proposed by the Department of Education, is critically needed by September 2017 and will be welcomed. It consists of a double mobile unit with toilets and the refurbishment of a classroom in the main school building.

"The provision of this temporary accommodation will make a big difference to the pupils of St Patrick's PS in the short term. It will provide a short-term solution to some of our critical accommodation issues but is wholly inadequate in the long term.

"The Governors are unanimous in recognising that the long-term solution for providing quality education for the growing population in this area is a complete new build and therefore have requested DE to put Hilltown on the list for a new school building.

"As governors, we are proud of the high standard of education being provided in our school, as evidenced in our last ETI Inspection Report, and we applaud the staff who are doing a wonderful job in a school building which has been described by EA, CCMS and DE, as providing a 'chronic shortage of accommodation'," said Mr Byrne.

Local politicians are also supportive of the need for a new school.

Margaret Ritchie, SDLP Parliamentary candidate and outgoing MP, said that she "fully supports the management of St Patrick's Primary School, Hilltown, in their efforts to acquire new classroom accommodation for the school".

"This is long overdue and urgently needed and will address some of the shortterm needs of the school. The population in Hilltown is growing and there is a clear need to look at a long-term plan of school development which will necessitate the provision of a new school building.

"I look forward to supporting the Board of Governors as they work with the Department of Education to make their vision for a new school building which is fit for 21st century education a reality," said Ms Ritchie.

Sinéad Ennis MLA urged the Department of Education and the Education Authority to provide much needed extra teaching space in St Patrick's Primary School.

"In an area where the school population is growing, expansion is desperately needed to provide a high quality teaching environment for all pupils.

"Department of Education and Education Authority representatives visited St Patrick's PS in February this year but staff and pupils are still waiting for a commitment from DE to move forward on this issue. I urge the EA to commit to resolving this as soon as possible," said Ms Ennis.

Sinéad Bradley MLA, has also written to the Department of Education, the Education Authority and to the Catholic Council of Maintained Schools in support of the school management.

In her letter she said: "The chronic shortage of space at St Patrick's PS Hilltown, together with the poor structural state make daily functioning a challenge.

Immediate action is required to ensure that all children attending St Patrick's can be safely accommodated."

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