Irish medium schools should not be “place on a pedestal” by the Education Minister while so many others are forced to close, Peter Weir has said.
Mr Weir, the DUP’s spokesman for education, said there are “many challenges facing our education sector” and that it is of “no benefit to the wider community” for the Sinn Fein minister to prioritise schools teaching in Irish language.
Mr Weir was commenting after minister John O’Dowd officially opened Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin in north Belfast – and cut the first sod on a £15.5 million extension at Coláiste Feirste in the west of the city this week.
Two weeks ago the minister also officially opened the new £1.3 million Gaelscoil Ghleann Darach in Crumlin, Co Antrim.
“The statutory protections within the Education Order 1998 unfortunately allow such preferential treatment of two education sectors, giving them an advantage over all others,” Mr Weir said.
“Every school that has opened in Northern Ireland with fewer than 70 pupils in recent years has been within the Irish medium sector. “This has been at a time when, since 2011, 22 maintained schools, 29 controlled and two voluntary grammars have been shut.
“In many of these cases low pupil numbers was the rationale for closure.”
Mr Weir added: “For the vast majority of people they will judge that decisions taken by the minister have not been about educational need but political ideology and the advancement of ‘pet projects’.
“We want to see the statutory protection which facilitates such decisions removed so that decisions are based on fairness, equality and cost-effectiveness.”
Earlier this week the minister also officially opened a new £1.52 million sports accommodation at Saintfield High School, and announced a further £35 million to fund improvements at 12 schools.
Mr Weir has welcomed the additional funding, but said he understood the “sense of frustration” at the schools hoping to have been part of the announcement.
“They cannot be forgotten about,” he added.