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Derry community rallies to try to save Ballougry Primary School

Ballougry PS was informed four weeks ago that the school would be closed due to reduced staff, with only 44 children and three teachers, the academy (EA) published a plan to close the school in August 2023 But the school refuses to go down without a fight.

Damian O’Kane, Principal of the school, said: “We are currently consulting with the Education Authority (EA) on the future of the school. It really comes down to two things; our figures and our finances.

“We are a rural school, which means that we will naturally have a smaller number of pupils. There are many brilliant schools in the city but parents make the choice to come here, which says a lot about the school.

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“We have 44 children at the moment and we must have 105 according to the policy. Our legal limit on building is 84 so before we even start we are already trying to fight unfair regulations.

“All we’re asking for is time. We have shown over the past few years that we can grow. We had no children entering primary school in 2019, we had six in 2020, nine last year and nine this year. If we had three more this year we would be at our capacity for primary which is 12. Hopefully in the future we can expand which will leave us at a capacity of 84 children.

“In my opinion, there is no reason why the school should not be part of the community. It offers different aspects of education that not all schools in the city can offer in terms of smaller classrooms and individual time and support. The children are learning in a rural setting which means there are sheep in the back of the school, wildlife all around them and a certain calm around us here. That takes nothing away from the big schools, that’s how it is here.

“I would be devastated if the school were to close. I came here to make a difference, not to sit at the desk and just be here. I came to make a change and I knew we could do it, we are showing it now.

“We are delighted with the support we have received from everyone, especially parents and the wider community. Everyone pulled together and we couldn’t have asked for more than that. I get emotionally upset at times because I knew our parents would support us, but I never expected this level of support. We are four weeks away and neither parent has left yet. Our parents are unwavering and ready to give the school a chance. You can’t ask for anything else. »

Carey Moore’s daughter Raeya is in second grade at Ballougry Primary School. She moved Raeya from a bigger school in town to Ballougry when she was in primary school. Carey said: “Raeya’s first school had quite a large class and I felt like she just didn’t fit in. She would be quite calm, so she struggled in that environment. A friend at work told me to come see the school because she had three kids going there and they loved it. Came to see the school, met Mr O’Kane, saw the P1 class and the teacher and just loved it. I knew Raeya would love to be here.

“We signed up Raeya and she started at the beginning of the year and she has flourished here. She loves it! She has good friends and she loves her teacher. They have an awesome outdoor area that she loves to play in. They are in the countryside with fresh air and I love sending her here knowing that she is learning in such a wonderful environment.

“I would be absolutely devastated if the school were to close. I would be heartbroken. Raeya would be gutted too. She wakes up every morning excited for school and she hates weekends, it’s crazy! Her little sister Ruby is almost a year old and she can’t stop talking about when Ruby is P1 and Raeya is P7 and how much fun they will have in school, she loves talking to Ruby about all the people she will meet at school. school and things she’ll be doing when she’s here and that’s so cute, but it’s also heartbreaking now to think that might not happen.

The outgoing Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Graham Warke, on a visit to the school said: “Obviously hearing about Ballougry School and learning about it I thinks it’s important that everyone gets behind her. We need everyone behind us. It’s a rural school and they do absolutely amazing things. It’s something I wanted to do in my last week as mayor to get here before my time is up and give them my support.

“It’s wonderful to meet the staff, the director, the parents and the children of the school. This school caters to all as an all-inclusive school in the heart of the rural community. So I encourage everyone in the town to support the campaign and sign the petition for Ballougry Primary School and support it 100%. »

In the meantime, councilors have unanimously agreed to support Ballougry Primary School in their campaign to stay open.

Presenting the motion to the full meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Aontú Councilor Emmet Doyle said: ‘The situation at Ballougry Primary School defies belief to be perfectly honest, there was a range of members who attended a meeting the day before the Assembly. election to hear from parents, teachers and governors about the School Authority’s threat that the school would be closed.

“This is done under the auspices of the six-point Sustainable Schools Policy, one of the main ones that the Education Authority (EA), for example, puts forward as a reason to close the school is the financial situation and the enrollment trends.

“I have to say, having worked with the chairman of the board and the principal over the last few weeks, it is very clear that the school had a hand tied behind its back for a considerable time before this decision. pre-consultation.

“For example, in terms of stable enrollment trends, Ballougry Primary School, total enrollment for 21/22 is 44 pupils, but there are a range of other schools across the North that are going of 40…. which have approximately the same number of students and whose closure is not considered by the School Authority.

“The position of activists, students, teachers, governors and staff is that this policy is not consistently enforced.

“As this is the last rural school on the town side, there is a huge impact on the lives of the students who attend, on the rural community at large and for the school authority to consider to send children who have grown up in an environment where they are in a rural setting, receive much more individual intensive care, where they can send them to larger schools where the results may not be as good.

Seconding the motion, Alliance Councilor Rachael Ferguson added, “The parents are all really invested in the school and proud to be part of the community. The school is a welcoming place for all and due to the small number of people in the school, all the needs of the children are met.

“If this school closes, the children would have to go to the city side or the water side every day, there would be no other option and it would take away from this unique rural experience that these children have in school.”

UUP Alderman Ryan McCready urged all members to support the school while DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney added that “too many times we have seen rural schools closed”.

Also attending the meeting in May, SDLP Councilor Brian Tierney said: ‘There is an incredible feeling that this community was not going to be pushed around or brought down and allow this school to close without a fight.

“This school is not just a school, it is the focus, the focal point of their community and we need to reach out to them and help them in any way we can to ensure it stays open.”

Stating that her party’s main concern was to ensure that the ‘educational and pastoral welfare’ of children was paramount, Sinn Fein Councilor Patricia Logue added: ‘I also attended the meeting and the passion in the room to keep the school open was palpable.

“As a group we met with the school and they assured us that they had a sustainability plan. We also had a zoom meeting as a party with EA and gave them our thoughts on the matter very clearly. and I think it’s incumbent on EA to give the school a good plan.

Calling on all council members to ‘stand in solidarity’ with the campaign at Ballougry Primary School, People Before Profit councilor Shaun Harkin commented: ‘It was very clear that there is a great school community there down and great energy to keep the school open We need to do all we can to help this campaign.

Speaking about the impact the closure would have, Independent Councilor Gary Donnelly said: “This is a school that has been in operation for 150 years and provides exceptional learning experiences for children.

“Ballougry is one of the most inclusive schools in the neighborhood. There are children from different religious backgrounds and cultures and closing this school will have a huge impact, especially for Protestant families in our area who are a minority and it would be an absolute disgrace.

Describing Ballougry as “not just a school, it’s a community”, UUP Alderman Derek Hussey said his “desperation at the School Authority locking our children into economic units rather than a site educational advancement”.

The motion passed unanimously. It read: ‘That this Council recognizes the exceptional education offered by Ballougry Primary School, recognizes that the School Authority recently launched a pre-publication consultation which recommended the school’s closure, further recognizes the adverse impact this will have on pupils, parents, staff and the local community, and will offer the school its full support to remain open, including responding to any consultation from the authority or ministry of Education and will immediately direct the Zone Planning Team to come before Council to hear members’ concerns. ‘

The council will also invite representatives of the Ballougry primary school to make a presentation to the elected officials.

The school started a petition to try to save the school and raise funds for the campaign: https://www.change.org/p/save-ballougry-ps?signed=true