Downpatrick Schools Merger Faces Legal Challenge

Legal Challenge To Oppose Downpatrick Schools Merger

Legal Challenge To Oppose Downpatrick Schools Merger

A legal challenge is being mounted as the Red High PFA says kneejerk move by former Minister and Department of Education to merge three Downpatrick post-primary schools will ruin the futures of pupils.

The Parents’ Association of St. Patrick’s Grammar School Downpatrick, is supporting a legal challenge against a move by former Education Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA to amalgamate the school with two others in the area.

The Red High PFA, which represents over 500 parents of pupils at St. Patrick’s Grammar School, is supporting the launch of a Judicial Review by a primary school parent against a plan to merge the school with De La Salle High School and St. Mary’s High School.

The primary school parent’s decision to seek a Judicial Review follows significant opposition from school pupils, parents, neighbouring residents, and primary schools in the area to the hasty decision by caretaker Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA on Monday 10 October to approve the merger.

The controversial plan was first proposed by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), on behalf of the De La Salle Congregation, for a 1600 pupil co-educational 11-19 voluntary grammar school.

The Red High PFA is supporting the proposed judicial review to oppose the merger of three post-primary schools in Downpatrick.

The Red High PFA says the Department undertook an “entirely flawed” decision making process, in which over 85% (106 of 120) schools in the local area opposed the amalgamation at consultation stage, and almost 90% of personal responses (539 out of 601) also objected.

Announcing the move towards a Judicial Review, the PFA accused the Minister and Department of Education of failing to consider overwhelming opposition in the area and taking a “sweeping, ill-informed decision” without regard for the adverse impact it will have on the educational outcomes of children.

The PFA is also calling on Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education Mark Browne to halt the controversial merger in the absence of a Minister.

It questions the timing of the Minister’s decision while working in a caretaker capacity with instability at the Northern Ireland Executive and says the “purely theoretical” plan was taken forward at time when Northern Ireland had no powers to set a budget and without details of how the implementation stage will be funded.

Red High PFA Member Colin Bell, whose sons (13 and 15) attend the school, said: “We as the Red High Parents’ & Friends’ Association are left with no choice but to support a legal challenge against the reckless and irresponsible plan to amalgamate post-primary education in the area.

“Our children’s education has been disrupted enough by the Covid-19 pandemic without an ill-informed, unfunded, purely theoretical plan for a school merger being irresponsibly green-lit by a caretaker Minister.

This move has the potential to ruin pupil’s futures and has been entirely thrust upon them. We as the Red High PFA stand in complete opposition to the amalgamation and are united in our belief that this will severely impact educational outcomes for our children.

“It is for this reason that we are gathering the necessary funds and instructing legal proceedings, and we will fight this amalgamation all the way.”

PFA member Sheila Reynolds, whose 15-year-old son attends Red High added: “The long-standing opposition to the flawed Downpatrick school merger has taken a major step forward as we proceed towards Judicial Review.

“We are supporting proceedings on behalf of the pupils, the parents, the local residents, and the rural primary schools who join us in resisting this utter disgrace.

“The former caretaker Minister seemingly approved this plan without regard to the strong opposition in the community, yet we as the Red High PFA will not stand by and ignore it.

“We wish to thank everyone who has donated to our campaign and supported the initiation of legal proceedings so far.

“As that process plays out, we call once again on Department of Education Permanent Secretary Mark Browne to step in and halt this irresponsible merger. This un-costed, fanciful plan can go no further.”