Education: Orangefield school to close but Dundonald saved

Orangefield High school in East Belfast, which is to close.
Orangefield High school in East Belfast, which is to close.

Plans for the future of seven secondary schools in Belfast were yesterday revealed by Education Minister John O’Dowd.

One of the seven schools – Orangefield High School – will close by August 31.

“With only 92 pupils remaining in Orangefield High School, it has declined to such an extent that it is no longer feasible to delay its closure,” said the minister.

He decided not to close Dundonald High School.

The minister said: “Dundonald is a large urban area with a significant population of school-aged children.

“There is no other inclusive post-primary school close by.

“From engagement with local representatives, it is clear to me that this is a community whose young people need, and should rightly expect, to be able to access good quality secondary education.”

He added that “for the school to flourish and its young people to achieve their full potential, it is clear that attitudes, expectations for pupils’ attainment and provision will need to change”.

Meanwhile, a decision has been made to approve the proposal to amalgamate Newtownbreda and Knockbreda high schools.

Approving their amalgamation with effect from September 1 will, according to the minister, “provide the opportunity for the development of a viable and sustainable school, initially on a split site”.

“When the time comes to consider a new build I want the South Eastern and Belfast Board to work together to determine the most appropriate location for the new school to allow it to serve the local population,” he added.

A decision was also taken to decline the proposal to expand Ashfield Boys’ admission number to 130 and the enrolment number to 820: rising to 850 by 2018.

And to decline the proposal to expand Ashfield Girls’ High School’s admission number to 140 and the enrolment number to 840: rising to 900 by 2018.

Both proposals were with effect from August 31.

Mr O’Dowd said: “The proposed sixth form increases at both schools amount to 255 places resulting in a combined sixth form capacity of 400 places.

“Such large increases in sixth form provision would also impact on other schools in the area.”

Meanwhile, a proposal to increase the approved enrolment at Priory College, Holywood, from 450 to 600 has been declined.

However, he did approve a modified enrolment number of 500 and a Year 8 admissions number of 100 with effect from August 31.

First Minister Peter Robinson said the DUP has been working “to address the real concerns within east Belfast and the surrounding area to ensure there is adequate educational provision within the controlled sector”.

He said yesterday’s statement “provides an opportunity to ensure that children who attend schools in the controlled sector have well-resourced and properly structured schools”.

East Belfast MP Naomi Long said the decision to close Orangefield High School is “sad” for pupils and staff.

She said further schooling provision for existing pupils needs to be clarified immediately.