Alliance representatives, Naomi Long MP, Judith Cochrane MLA and Chris Lyttle MLA, have responded to the statement by the Education Minister on the future of several schools in East Belfast. Orangefield High School will be closed but Dundonald High School will be kept open. Newtownbreda and Knockbreda High Schools will be amalgamated. Enrolment at Ashfield Boys’ and Girls’ High Schools will not be expanded. Priory College will have a modified enrolment of 500 with a Year 8 admissions number of 100.
Naomi Long MP said: “The decision to close Orangefield High School is a sad one for current and former pupils and staff; however, it was important that a decision about the future was taken quickly. There appears to be some uncertainty regarding whether pupils will transfer directly to Ashfield as previously proposed and this needs to be clarified as the focus must now be on smooth transition for the pupils, particularly those in key exam years, into their new school setting.
“However, I am delighted that Dundonald High School will now be kept open. There would have been an unbearable strain placed on East Belfast’s post-primary schools had both been closed as originally planned. I would like to pay tribute to the acting principal, staff, pupils and local community who have campaigned to retain Dundonald. There will be a lot of hard work required to secure its long-term future, but we have been given the chance to turn things around and, given the significant improvements we have already seen, coupled with the clear commitment of parents, there is now real hope for the future. The Minister was clearly impressed by that when I met him in the autumn to discuss the school’s future and I believe he has made a good decision in this case.”
Judith Cochrane MLA said: “During an Assembly debate last year, I urged the Minister to ensure that a constituency wide approach was taken, so I am pleased that the Minister did not look at individual cases for closures but sought to make a decision in the best interests of the whole area. We do nevertheless need clarity for Orangefield pupils around the reallocation process. I also believe that there is real urgency in resolving the post-16 provision which seems to be no further on at this point and yet is crucial to employability and future prospects for young people in the area.”
Chris Lyttle MLA said: “If the Minister had closed Dundonald High School, it would have left pupils and families isolated from educational provision due to transport issues and I’m pleased for everyone involved in the school and local community that the Minister has kept Dundonald open. The focus now must be on building a sustainable future for this school and for provision more generally, going forward.”