Mr. Rogers was speaking ahead of an Assembly debate on the issue yesterday (14 may 2013). He said: “In the North, half of our primary schools have fewer pupils than the required viability quota for rural schools. The magic number that dictates whether a rural primary school is sustainable is 105.
“The SDLP would argue that it is perfectly possible for schools to provide a quality education without meeting the enrolment threshold if it is well led, rooted in the community and financially sound.
“Of the 321 Primary schools identified as having too few pupils, 31 have been earmarked for closure, 70 mergers are proposed and 18 schools are recommended to share resources.
“Members of this house recognise the importance of our rural schools, if only we consider the number of times this topic has been debated, rural schools despite having smaller numbers are closer to the heart of the community than many of their urban counterparts and are key to the sustainability of rural life.
“Schools like Clontifleece and Burrenreagh in my constituency of South Down despite being well under the 105 threshold deliver a high quality education and are within budget.
“Right across the North there are rural secondary schools with less than 500 pupils delivering high quality education. How many schools will be left in rural Fermanagh if the 500 threshold is observed?
“Time and consideration must be given to the community development plans, be it the cross-sectoral proposals form St Aidens or the cross-border proposals from St Mary’s Brollagh.
“Much has been said about Area Planning as the mechanism for the delivery of the Sustainable Schools Policy. The audits leave a lot to be desired , considering both the CCMS and the ELBs have a limited knowledge of Rural proofing, they worked in isolation, the penny didn’t drop that shared education could be a win for the school and wider community giving children the opportunity to be educated together and maintaining the rural school.
“It is totally unacceptable that despite the Area plans being completed last year, it took CCMS until late February/March to bring their proposals to the schools, there is no consideration of school communities in rushing this through.
“I urge the Minister to allow rural schools the time and breathing space to come up with what the Minister himself calls “creative ideas”, and then schools like Clontifleece and Burrenreagh, St Aidens Derrylin or St Marys Brollagh will rise to the challenge and produce a viable and creative alternative to closure,” added Mr Rogers.
Speaking on ‘The View” Education MInister John O’Dowd said that everything was still under consultation and he welcomed responses from the community, the schools and from politicians.