On Wednesday 26th February 2014 over 500 concerned parents, residents and pupils, as well as local MLA’s, attended a public meeting to debate the decision by Minister for Education, John O’Dowd, to amalgamate Newtownbreda and Knockbreda High Schools in Belfast.
This decision, announced by O’Dowd on the 14th January 2014, will affect over 1000 pupils currently attending the schools, including those getting ready to sit GCSE’s and A Levels. This is despite the schools inspectorate calling one of the schools as a “good news story”.
With six months to go, the proposal is for the newly merged schools to operate out of both current sites. However, whether different years will be based in separate sites or whether pupils will be required to travel between the two sites during the school day to attend certain lessons is unknown. Also left unanswered is what the new school will be called, what the uniform will be, what staff (if any) will be kept on. In fact, apart from saying the decision on the amalgamation is definite, both the Minister and the SEELB have been unable to answer any question relating to the issue.
What is known is that amalgamations seldom work. In a recent report compiled by the Hay group 79% of merged schools showed a decline in education with 51% never recovering. Dundonald High School, born out of the amalgamation of Dundonald Boys and Dundonald Girls High Schools, has been threatened with closure on several occasions, with the latest move seeing the Minister give the school a temporary reprieve from closure. In reality, this move appears to be more about cutting funding at the expense of pupils, parents and staff. It is yet another example of the devastation facing our public services here.