Court Rejects Objections To Downpatrick Schools’ Merger

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High Court Decision Quashes Objections To Catholic Post-Primary School Merger Plan In Downpatrick.

In a decision in the High Court in Belfast on Wednesday 25th November, the long-running issue over the future of Downpatrick’s post-primary Catholic schools was settled writes Jim Masson.

Justice Quinlivan decided that the plans to progress with a co-education, 1600 pupil new super-school could progress in 2021 after saying the the consultation that had taken place was “fair”.

The Board of Governors of St Patrick’s GS also believed that they had the right to block the merger but Justice Quinlivan also quashed this.

Many parents, staff and pupils at St Patrick’s Grammar School had opposed this initiative to merge St Patrick’ Grammar School with St Mary’s High School and the De La Salle High School fearing it could harm their children’s education.

St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick.

The chairman of the St Patrick’s GS Board of Governors, Dr Aidan Hamill, brought the case against the trustees of the De la Salle Congregation and the CCMS (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools), however, Justice Quinliven disagreed they had a right to put the case first to the Education Authority to maintain the school’s current administration.

The Trustees of St Patrick’s GS had taken the position with the CCMS that the merger should have gone ahead and it is believed that for the first time in legal history a Board has taken legal action against its Trustees in this manner.

CCMS Comments After The Court Ruling

A spokesperson for the CCMS speaking after the court ruling explained that the process to date in the dispute saying that after the court ruling in 2018-19, CCMS and the De La Salle trustees consulted on a proposal to discontinue St Mary’s High School, De La Salle High School and St Patrick’s Grammar School and create a new co-educational, 11-19, voluntary grammar school in Downpatrick.

This was the culmination of consideration and consultation by trustees and the CCMS of the future of provision in the area over a number of years. 

Their decision was informed by the Sustainable Schools Policy (2009) and the Northern Ireland Council for Catholic Education Post-Primary Review (2012) which recommended the three schools work together on a co-educational model for the area.

The proposal was submitted by CCMS and the Trustees to the Education Authority on 30 August 2019.

In October 2019, an application for leave to apply for judicial review of the proposal to create the new school was submitted on behalf of the Board of Governors of St Patrick’s Grammar School.

Following delays due to Covid-19, the judgement was issued on 26 November 2020. The application for leave to apply for judicial review was subsequently denied on all grounds by Justice Quinlivan.

Leave to judicially review a proposal to create a new school in Downpatrick denied.

A CCMS spokesperson said: “The members of the Downpatrick Post-primary Project Board (the De La Salle Congregation, the Down and Connor Diocese and CCMS) welcome the judgement, issued on 26th November 2020, on the proposal to create a new co-educational voluntary grammar school in Downpatrick.

“The application for leave to apply for judicial review of the proposal to create the new school was denied on all grounds by Justice Quinlivan.

“The objective of the Downpatrick Project Board remains to create a new co-educational post-primary school.

“It is proposed that the school would have a vision and ethos of inclusion and educational excellence in keeping with the tradition espoused by the Catholic family of schools. 

“The proposal offers the potential for all children from a family to be educated together at post-primary level, similar to their experience at primary school in the area. 

“The De La Salle Congregation and CCMS will now progress their joint proposal to the Education Authority to commence the public consultation in early 2021.

“The public consultation process allows the wider public to comment on the proposal for a new school before the Minister of Education makes his decision on the matter.”

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