East Belfast Alliance representatives have spoken of their concerns over the proposed closure of a school in their constituency.
Judith Cochrane MLA, Chris Lyttle MLA and Naomi Long MP were talking after visiting Dundonald High School today (Friday). The school, situated off the Upper Newtownards Road, is currently the subject of a draft proposal by the South Eastern Education and Library Board which would see it shut in August 2014 as part of the reorganising of post-primary education throughout Belfast.
Mrs Cochrane said that while she and the other Alliance elected representatives in the area, including Castlereagh Councillors Tim Morrow and Vasundhara Kamble, accepted there were “grave challenges” facing Dundonald High School, they pledged to raise several issues with the board surrounding the proposed closure.
“Any decision must be viewed in relation to other potential school closures and amalgamations facing East Belfast, which could mean potentially not enough places for secondary school pupils in the area.
“It could be difficult for pupils to attend the other high schools available, as there are no direct public transport links between Dundonald and their locations. Indeed, the most convenient school to Dundonald would be Movilla High School in Newtownards, which is quite a long distance from Dundonald and not connected to East Belfast.
“In the meantime, it is wrong for the Education Minister to state no East Belfast representatives have spoken to him about local educational matters, when he visited another local school only last month at my behest and I spoke to him about several matters, including this one.”
Mr Lyttle said any proposal must consider the unique contribution Dundonald High makes to the East Belfast area.
“If a closure takes place, a proper plan must be put in place that has this site connected to the local community and the rest of East Belfast. That would at least give people here some peace of mind.
“But that does not mean that we should simply accept Dundonald High’s closure without a fight. The school has a significant special educational needs unit and an accelerated learning programme, all issues we will be raising with the SEELB when they are making any decision in relation to the school.”
Mrs Long added that it was important to see additional, rather than reduced, resources targeted at addressing educational underachievement and disengagement.
“There needs to be a proper plan for post-primary education services in East Belfast, so that decisions are made on a constituency-wide basis, and recognise the social and physical connectivity between communities and schools.
“The closure of Dundonald High School in addition to the closure planned at Orangefield High School, without such joined-up thinking, could place a great strain on the post-primary sector here.”