Ulster Unionist Party MLA for South Belfast, Michael McGimpsey has spoken strongly against the amalgamation of Knockbreda and Newtownbreda High Schools in a debate at the Assembly.
Mr McGimpsey warned that amalgamating the two schools – effectively closing both and creating a new school- would not be in the interests of pupils at either Knockbreda or Newtownbreda.
In a statement following the debate, Mr McGimpsey said:
“Amalgamation will have a detrimental impact on the quality of education. It is well-documented that, in 68% of amalgamations, the schools affected see a drop in their academic achievement; 51% of those never regain that position.
“The amalgamation would formally shut both schools and form a new school. The new school would be formed on a split site on either side of the busiest traffic junction in Northern Ireland. Anybody who is familiar with the Forestside junction will know the nightmare that pupils and staff would face if there were a split site.
“To formally close a successful school that has the support of the full school family — parents, pupils and staff — would, to put it mildly, be highly unpopular. I was at a public meeting in Newtownbreda High School a number of months ago. The opinions expressed there were as strong as I have heard at a public meeting. It was in a packed school hall. The strong view was not about Newtownbreda versus Knockbreda. It was about the quality of our children’s education; I say reinforce it, support it, and invest in it.
“What we have is a proposal that takes an ivory tower approach. Commissioners in the South Eastern Education and Library Board are saying, “We are not listening to any of that. All the parents, all the pupils, all the staff put together — it does not matter what they are saying. We are going to do it a different way. We know best.” That is most unfortunate. To say that there is public relations disaster brewing is to put it very mildly.
“What is proposed is a rushed process. A rushed process is likely to be a botched process.”
Mr McGimpsey called on the Minister for Education to meet with parents, staff, pupils and community representatives to listen to their concerns.