Unite to fight school closures

Education Minister John O’Dowd has announced that all primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland will be reviewed for “teaching quality” and “possible financial savings” by the end of the school year. The reality is O’Dowd is drawing up a hit-list of schools he wants to close.

Up to 400 schools are under threat as they are bracketed as being under the pupil quota for schools in Northern Ireland. Taking into account the potential for amalgamations of schools, it is a real threat that hundreds of schools will be closed by the Assembly.

The Department for Education budget is to be cut by £700million over the next four years. Typically, the sectarian politicians are attempting to hoodwink us by stirring up sectarian arguments over which schools “should” close. DUP Education Committee Chairman Meryn Storey has stated “I’m very focused and determined that there will be an equality of distribution, rather than what has seemed to be the case to date with one sector taking a disproportionate hit over another.” Storey doesn’t oppose the closure of any schools – either Catholic maintained or ‘state’ controlled, but wants to inject a sectarian division between ordinary people on the question of school closures.

Peter Robinson has been particularly cynical in his approach arguing that this would be a good opportunity to attempt to unify education on non-sectarian lines and called the education system a “Form of Apartheid”. Robinson’s sudden “conversion” to integrated education truly takes the biscuit and in reality is an attempt to stir up sectarianism by threatening to do away with Catholic schools altogether. Nationalist politicians have replied in kind. John O’Dowd described Peter Robinson’s comments as “little more than a thinly disguised sectarian attack on Catholic education, parents and children”. This pantomime between sectarian politicians is sickening – they are jointly responsible for the closure of schools affecting both Catholic and Protestant children and communities.

School closures will bring further hardship to working class communities. There will not just be redundancies in teaching staff, but across the board affecting caretakers, classroom assistants and cleaners all faced with losing their jobs.

The closure of rural schools will mean that many pupils will have to travel very long distances at the same time the transport budget has been cut vigorously. We need a fully-funded integrated comprehensive education system, democratically controlled by staff, parents and student representatives to cater for the educational needs of all.

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