SSUNI Speaks On Downpatrick School Merger Row

Secondary Students’ Union of Northern Ireland (SSUNI) hits out at Department of Education’s Downpatrick school merger proposal

Secondary Students’ Union of Northern Ireland (SSUNI) hits out at Department of Education’s Downpatrick school merger proposal

The Secondary Students’ Union of Northern Ireland (SSUNI) has hit out at the Department of Education’s controversial plan to amalgamate three schools in Downpatrick. The Union, which represents 40,000 students in Northern Ireland, described the move as being “forced upon” the students of the three schools “against their will”.

The Secondary Students’ Union of Northern Ireland was founded during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic in response to the decisions made in education without student consultation. It now represents over 40,000 students.

Students, parents, staff, and friends of St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Downpatrick, gather at the Department of Education, Rathgael House, Bangor to protest. (Photo by: Press Eye / Phil Magowan

The SSUNI, since its founding, has acted as a democratic voice for students across Northern Ireland, using the motto ‘Powered by students, for students.’ Its primary aim has been ensuring the inclusion of students in the decision-making process.

Describing it as an “injustice”, the Union has expressed grave concern over what is says is a lack of consultation with local students in a dispute now four-years old.

The SSUNI argues in their statement that “no student who will be impacted by former Education Minister Michelle McIlveen’s decision was included in the original consultation.”

Department of Education documents also note there is “strong opposition” from the students of the affected schools.

SSUNI President Eilidh O’Connor said: “If the pandemic taught us one thing in education, it is that we cannot make decisions about students without students.

“The Area Planning decision in Downpatrick flies in the face of countless promises from the Department of Education to not only hear, but listen to students on issues that affect them.

“There is no issue that affects a student more than the closure of their school. For the Department to place over 1400 students in a new school, against their will, without including them in the consultation process is unjustifiable.

“And it is outrageous when it is blatantly acknowledged to be against their wishes”.

The Union believes that this raises broader concerns for the Department’s commitment to student voice in particular in the realm of Area Planning.

President Eilidh O’Connor added: “It is difficult to find any commitment to student voice by the department in this decision.

“If the Department is to continue with its Area Planning agenda, students must be included in that process as equal stakeholders. It is us with the most at stake.”

The Union has called on Department of Education Permanent Secretary Mark Browne to overturn the decision.