East Derry MP Claire Sugden has expressed concern that the vital contribution of rural schools to their communities is not taken into account in a purely cost-based approach to school sustainability.
A School Authority report last week (from January 17) said there were too many small and unsustainable rural schools.
Almost 44% of rural primary schools have less than the recommended threshold of 105 pupils and just over 47% of rural post-primary schools have enrollments below their threshold of 500 pupils.
“The Department of Education The Sustainable Schools Policy has created these thresholds – which are rightly lower than for urban schools,” she said.
“The School Authority also pointed to the increased costs of operating schools with fewer students.
“What also needs to be considered, however, is the role these schools play in rural communities, the quality of education and the nurturing environment that make these schools vital community assets.
“There are many small rural schools in Northern Ireland. They contribute so much to their local communities in terms of events and fundraising, providing a hub for locals and creating community cohesion.
“In my own constituency of East Derry we have already lost Bellarena and Ballyhackett Primary Schools in recent years.
“These events have been devastating for these communities and not just for those with a direct connection to them. We can no longer afford to lose. »
“Rural communities needed more support”
Rural communities needed more support and better service delivery, not less, Sugden said.
She highlighted the Rural Needs Act as a legal mechanism that important decisions such as the provision of schools must adhere to.
“The Rural Needs Act requires the executive and public bodies to consider the impact of any changes made on rural communities and this must be closely adhered to to ensure that these communities are not adversely affected” , Sugden continued.
“If a small community loses its school, families are less likely to move to the area and more likely to move.
“This has inevitable repercussions for other local businesses and services, effectively eroding these communities from within.
“The executive is not doing enough for rural communities as it is.
“I will pursue this in close collaboration with the Minister for Education and other ministers to ensure that our already underfunded rural areas are not further disadvantaged, but rather better supported in all areas including transport, communications, roads, health and, of course, schools. .”