Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Rural primary school under threat of proposed closure 

Proposals to close a primary school near Crossmaglen have sparked anger and concern among parents, staff and local political representatives in the area.

On Friday, parents of pupils attending Anamar Primary School received notification from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) that it is proposing to close the school at the end of the current school year.  The Examiner understands the plan is subject to the outcome of a public consultation period with the final decision on the school’s future resting with the Education Minister, John O’Dowd.

This is not the first time the school has faced imminent closure.  In 2009 staff and parents embarked on a vigorous and high profile campaign to oppose plans to amalgamate the school with the nearby St. Patrick’s PS in Crossmaglen.  Although protracted, that campaign was ultimately successful and the school’s 170-year history of teaching local children continued unabated.

Now the issue has come to the fore again, with CCMS claiming the school, with its current enrolment of just 34, is no longer sustainable.

Speaking to The Examiner on Friday, Principal Anna Shields said the news is “unwelcome” but “is certainly not the end of the line” for the future of Anamar PS.

Mrs Shields revealed that the CCMS letter is part of a process in which a development proposal will be published for public consultation on the issue and keenly stressed that no final decision has been taken as yet to close the school.

“Although this is an unwelcome development, it is certainly not the end of the line as for as Anamar Primary School is concerned,” Mrs Shields said.

“The proposal is that the school will close by 31st August next year but no final decision has been taken on that.  We are embarking on a further period of consultation.

“I will say, however, that it would be a very, very sad day if Anamar Primary School were to close.  We have a very happy school here, the children are receiving an excellent education and the school has the full support of the parents and the wider community.

“Anamar School has served generations of local children for nearly two centuries and there are many in our community and far beyond who have links with the school and who would be greatly saddened if it were to close.”

A spokesperson for the CCMS confirmed it has requested that the Education Authority (Southern Region) publish a development proposal on the proposed closure of Anamar Primary School for public consultation

“CCMS is of the view that the school is no longer sustainable in the context of the Department of Education’s Sustainable School Policy,” the spokesperson said.

“The public consultation, which will commence later in the year, will allow the public to comment on the proposal before the Minister of Education makes a decision.”

The move to close the school has been slammed by Sinn Féin councillor Terry Hearty who has been at the forefront of the fight to keep the school open for the last ten years.  He says he is deeply disappointed with the CCMS over, what he termed, its lack of consultation with the Board of Governors about the proposed closure.

“[CCMS] carried out a consultation over a year ago and since then have made no contact with the Board of Governors until sending out this letter,” Councillor Hearty revealed.

“At the very least they should have presented their findings to the Board and began discussions to find the best way forward from there.

“Schools in this area are bursting at the seams.  There are students being taught one-to-one lessons in cupboards because there is nowhere else to hold them.  We have had accidents at schools because of lack of parking and proper collection facilities.  This is the environment the CCMS is attempting to put 30 more pupils into.”

Mr Hearty reiterated the demands he made to the CCMS ten years ago stating: “If they are going to close this school, then they need to ensure that the proper staff, helpers, space and facilities are available to absorb them in other schools so that no child’s education suffers.  And I would stress that these need to be proper, quality facilities.  A wooden hut stuck in the middle of a playground is not the answer to this problem,” he added.

Commenting on the issue, party colleague Megan Fearon MLA echoed Mr Hearty’s sentiments and revealed she is to meet with representatives from CCMS.

“There needs to be far more consultation with the Board of Governors and if this is the move they are intent on making, then they need to ensure that other schools get the funding increases and expansions they need to accommodate more children,” she said.

“At the end of the day, it’s the pupils at the heart of this who are our primary concern so we will work with any statutory body or group out there to ensure that we find the best possible outcome for their education and future.”