NI’s first joint faith school: Catholic Church directs media queries to Church of Ireland over delay since 2016

The Catholic education authority has directed queries regarding the delay in completing NI’s first joint faith school to the Church of Ireland.

By Philip Bradfield
Wednesday, 12th February 2020, 3:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th February 2020, 4:54 pm
Desertmartin Primary School had proposed joining with its neighbouring catholic primary school.
Desertmartin Primary School had proposed joining with its neighbouring catholic primary school.

Yesterday the News Letter reported that the Church of Ireland and Catholic Church had both failed to explain why plans to merge two of their primary schools, announced in 2016, have apparently come to nothing – with one of the schools facing closure instead.

In 2016 it was announced that there were plans to merge Desertmartin Primary School, run by the Church of Ireland (CoI) and nearby Knocknagin Primary, run by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).

Now the principal of Desertmartin PS says her school is set to close as it is down to only 11 pupils, adding that she felt the Church of Ireland had been “disrespectful” in its lack of communication on the issue.

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Knocknagin Primary School, Desertmartin, had been working closely with its Church of Ireland neighbour.

The News Letter asked the CoI and the CCMS what had caused delays, but at the time of going to press neither have addressed the question, though the Church of Ireland did issue a statement.

Desertmartin PS was to merge with nearby Knocknagin Primary to become Northern Ireland’s first joint-faith school.

“The idea was that the churches would come together,” Desertmartin PS Principal Fiona Brown said. “We would have a school with a Christian ethos where both faiths would be represented, but no faith as well, where there wouldn’t be the segregation that there has traditionally been,” she told the BBC.

Desertmartin has traditionally, geographically, been a very divided community, she said. The schools, which are about half a mile apart, had been working together through shared education for a number of years, which led to the merger proposal.

“We trusted the churches to get on with it and we understood they were getting on with it. Nobody will tell us what the difficulties are either, what’s delayed the process so long, and that’s very frustrating and actually very hurtful for us at this point.”

The News Letter asked the CoI what the obstructions have been and why the school has not been kept up to date with progress.

In a statement the CoI said that its ‘Derry Diocesan Board of Education’ submitted a proposal to discontinue Desertmartin PS from 31st August 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter, but that the final decision rests with the education minister.

It added that the board has consulted governors, staff, parents and guardians – via the EANI – and engaged directly with staff and governors; while it continues to support the school “It would be inappropriate for the board to comment further while the Minister considers the school’s future” it added.

The EANI responded that the CoI is the managing authority for Desertmartin PS and was also the proposer for the merger “so they are best placed to comment on the application”. Knocknagin PS was also invited to comment on the matter.

After being approached again for comment today, the CCMS declined to give any detail about its input into the situation.

It said: “As referenced in your article and as mentioned by the Education Authority, the Church of Ireland is the managing authority for Desertmartin Primary School and are best placed to comment on this matter.”

The Church of Ireland has been approached for reaction.