O’Dowd banking on Donegal students to keep tiny border secondary off ‘the green mile…’?

So good news for the people of Belleek. St Mary’s High School in Brollagh, near the village on the Fermanagh border have a reprieve from closure. The tiny secondary school has just 121 students, and attracts about half the pupils transferring from nearby primary schools.

From the BBC report:

Simon Bradley, the acting principal of the school, said the news it would not be closed came as a shock.

“I think, like most people within the education community, were quite stunned by it, we weren’t expecting it,” he said.

“Having said that I’m delighted for the local area, delighted for the parents action group, who have worked incredibly hard over the last 18 months to draw attention to the need for rural education.

“It’s great news, but there’s a lot of work has to be done now if this is going to work for the long-term future.

“First and foremost the school is in dire need of capital investment. I’m not sure what the figures are, but certainly it’s in the hundreds of thousands.”

So the Minister has found some capital. Good. I suspect Mr Bradley’s shocked but happy reaction reflects the steep climb ahead of the school. The Minister claims he has a plan though (aside from encouraging local parents to start sending their kids back to St Mary’s in numbers again):

“The option of cross-border collaboration needs to be further examined and I am calling on CCMS and the WELB (Western Education and Library Board) to bring forward a pilot scheme which would allow the school to work with schools on the other side of the border,”

Belleek lies just six miles from Colaiste Cholmcille Secondary School which has a student population of 700 in Ballyshannon and 10 miles Magh Ene College a new built post primary school (350) in Bundoran.

Interestingly this is one area the Minister through the North South Ministerial Council has been doing some research. However the results of the survey of parents sending their kids across the border have yet to be officially published.

Good news is that there’s more demand for travelling from the north to the south. Bad news is that the current total demand is unlikely to give St Mary’s the necessary numbers boost:

Figures from the Departments of Education, north and south, show that 275 children from the border counties in the Republic of Ireland travel to secondary schools in Northern Ireland.

However, only a quarter of that number travel from Northern Ireland to schools in the Republic of Ireland.

In the satirical terms of Yes Minister, it’s a brave decision. Although it will play well with the local electorate up to and through the next election.

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