FOLLOWING the huge campaign to save St Mary’s Primary School in Fivemiletown, which attracted strong cross-community support from across the wider area, the school now faces an agonising wait to find out its future.
With the school slated for closure despite soaring enrolment numbers and the support of the local church, the community has now submitted the strongest ever response to a consultation on the proposal of a primary school closure, with almost 9,000 signatures submitted to the Department of Education.
Last month over 500 members of the community took to the streets of the town for a colourful demonstration calling for the retention of the much-loved school.
The walk was held as a public consultation on the school’s future came to a close, and was aimed at sending a message to the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the Department that small schools are a vital part of rural communities.
Parent and member of the St Mary’s board of governors, Mairaid Kelly, thanked everyone who had supported the campaign so far.
“It’s incredible that we’ve submitted the largest petition on record against a primary school closure, with over 8,950 signatures from people who want to save St Mary’s,” said Ms Kelly.
“We know that hundreds of letters have been submitted to the Department of Education, detailing the contribution of, and need for, a strong, small school like ours within our community.”
Ms Kelly said the letters did not just come from parents and staff, but from local employers, local Councils, and local elected representatives, who all recognised the need for the school, that its enrolment was rising, and that it remained financially viable.
“If St Mary’s was unable to achieve the very best for our children, we wouldn’t be fighting so passionately for its retention,” she said.
Ms Kelly added the school had seen the highest percentage growth in enrolment of any Catholic primary school in the North.
“At a time when primary school enrolment is falling, this really is a remarkable achievement and testament to the strengths of small schools like ours,” she said.
“All that remains now is to see whether this consultation has been a genuine exercise of trying to understand and determine whether this proposal is sound.
“If the consultation responses throughout this relentlessly positive campaign are given due consideration, then we are confident that no-one could take the decision to close our school, on the basis of the extensive evidence we have provided to demonstrate our continued sustainability both now and into the future.”
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