Education Minister’s visit lends weight to campaign for new school

March 25, 2013

During his visit to St. Joseph’s High School in Crossmaglen on Wednesday, Education Minister John O’Dowd heard how the school is thriving academically and has witnessed a significant increase in admissions, despite its poor state of accommodation.

Staff, members of the Board of Governors and elected representatives used the Minister’s visit as an opportunity to lobby for a new school building, something that was approved by the Department of Education almost a decade ago.

Principal Mr Kevin Scally said: “Despite the quality of the accommodation, the school is one of the most academically successful schools in Northern Ireland.

“Our A’ level and GCSE results are well above the Northern Ireland average. The young people of South Armagh get an excellent education in this school. We pass on every benchmark used by the Department of Education to measure the success and viability of post-primary schools.  Our enrolment has increased in recent years and now stands at 620 pupils.”

Mr Scally also pointed out to the Minister that although many schools face economic difficulty, with astute planning St. Joseph’s ends the year with a financial surplus and since the introduction of sixth form studies in 2003, the school has had a “very healthy intake” of A’ level students.

Chairperson of the Board of Governors, Mr Tom McKay, expressed his hope of a new school build: “St. Joseph’s High School is a highly regarded, popular school which urgently needs a new building in order to provide adequately for the needs of all its pupils.  I hope that the Minister urgently attends to the needs of the young people of South Armagh and gives approval for the building of a new school,” he said.

MP for the area, Conor Murphy and MLAs Dominic Bradley and Megan Fearon attended the event, along with councillors and invited members of the local community.

Following a guided tour of the school to see for himself the poor quality of the accommodation, Minister O’Dowd paid tribute to the school staff and pupils and thanked those in attendance.

Listening to the concerns raised during the visit, he reminded everyone of the importance of keeping the campaign for a new school build alive and encouraged the local community and parents to get behind the appeal to finally get the new school that South Armagh deserves.

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley lent his weight to the campaign.  Speaking after the meeting he said: “St Joseph’s is an excellent school in every way and the staff and pupils there deserve first class facilities.  A new school was promised nine years ago and yet nothing has happened.

Area based planning for the post-primary sector in South Armagh is settled and there is no reason why the school should have to wait any longer for a new build.”

Thanking Minister O’Dowd for accepting his invitation to visit the school, Mr Bradley said: “The Minister saw for himself the excellent work that is going on in the school and he is supportive of the school’s campaign.”

His colleague, Councillor Geraldine Donnelly, added: “We are prepared to work with all the stakeholders to help ensure that the new build project is moved forward without any further unnecessary delay.”