Just days after the European elections it was announced here in Derry that the Immaculate Conception College which is the only Catholic Post-Primary School in the Waterside area of city is to close by August 2015. Parents and children learned of the final decision to close the school through the media with the children later given an explanation by school staff. The timing of this announcement was politically convenient with the Local and European elections just at a close. The school is being closed on the basis of declining numbers, with numbers plummeting when the school was first earmarked for closure in 2010. Who is going to enrol their child in a school earmarked for closure?
This school is at the heart of an economically deprived community, this closure will not only see the demise of the local Post-Primary School but that of valuable community services such as the local Youth Club and Pre-School Nursery. This transition will also mean many children having to travel by bus or car to the West-Bank of the city or Rural areas to avail of a school place. Whilst this isn't a huge distance it does require transport which for some parents is an inconvenience they can little afford. This decision is said to be reminiscent of the situation here in the sixties when children from the West-bank of the city were forced to travel to the to the Immaculate Conception College (formerly St Brecans) to avail of a post-primary education due to a lack of provision.
In an ideal world I support integrated education but equally I support the rights of parents choosing an education for their children in line with their religious faith. Sadly in this city many of the Integrated and Catholic schools are already over subscribed giving children now seeking a new school place limited choice. I spoke to a parent this morning who has been told by the first two schools she contacted that her child will not get a place in their school due to over-subscription.
Ultimately we are a growing population with limited school places. Over the past six years we have witnessed the closure of over 100 schools here in the North of Ireland. These ill thought out decisions are little more than a short-term fix creating long-term problems. Not to mention the Private Finance Initiatives and the debt we now have for generations to come.
Where does this end?