St Patrick's pupils and staff voice their concerns over amalgamation

Pupils, parents and staff from St Patrick's Grammar School voice their concerns about a merger with two other schools.
Pupils, staff and parents from St Patrick's Grammar voiced their concerns about a merger outside the Department of Education. Credit: UTV

Dozens of parents and pupils from St Patrick's Grammar School in Downpatrick have protested outside the Department of Education calling for a halt to the amalgamation of their school with two others in the town.

The merger with De La Salle High School and St Mary’s High School, which is due to take place in September 2024, was approved by the former education minister Michelle McIlveen last year.

The school's parents’ association, the Red High PFA, has criticised the decision making process in creating a 1,600 pupil, co-educational 11–19 year-old voluntary grammar school in Downpatrick.

St Patrick’s Grammar School Principal Joe McCann said: "Just over a year and a half ahead of this planned merger, we are still struggling to understand the practicalities of how this school will function.

"We are supporting the PFA in asking for a temporary halt to proceedings. We ask the department to allow all parties the time and space to reflect, to consider fully the ramifications of this move that we know will have a tremendous impact not only on the town of Downpatrick but the many communities that surround us."

He added: "We need to make sure, before any plan goes ahead, that the school will be fit for purpose to meet the needs of future generations.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said development proposals (DPs) such as this are subject to "rigorous and extensive analysis of relevant data" and decisions are "taken in the educational interests of children".

It added: “Once decisions are taken on DPs they are required to be implemented. It is not within the power of the department or the permanent secretary to reverse decisions.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) said: "The development proposal has passed through the statutory consultation process, to the Department of Education, where it was approved by former Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen."

The statement added: "CCMS is not in a position to comment further on the matter."

Both De La Salle and St Mary's high schools have been contacted for comment.

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