Seaforde family’s concern at school merger

Seaforde family’s concern at school merger

17 February 2021

A SEAFORDE father has spoken of his concern that his two youngest sons will not be able to join their older brothers at St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick if a planned merger goes ahead.

Bernard Owens and his wife Claudine already have sons Nathan (16) and Ben (11) attending the school.

They worry that because Seaforde is in a Category B school area, their two youngest sons will not get a place in the proposed school merger of St Patrick’s with Downpatrick schools, St Mary’s High and De La Salle High, even if they attain an A grade in the transfer test.

The couple will be letting their views and concerns be known during the final weeks of the public consultation into the controversial merger.

If the merger is approved by the Education Minister, it will mean the closure of all three schools and the creation of a new one – albeit on the three existing sites initially - before September next year.

The merger proposal has the full support of the De La Salle Congregation which is the trustees for each of the three schools.

The proposal is to build a new 1,600 plus student voluntary grammar school in Downpatrick where a maximum of 40% of students would be admitted each year through academic selection.

The Owens’ younger sons, Finn (10) and Conn (6) attend St Malachy’s Primary School in Castlewellan. It was the couple’s hope that they would join their brothers at the ‘Red High’, along with sister Elise possibly doing her A Levels there as well.

Mr Owens said: “St Patrick’s Grammar School as it exists currently is a fantastic school with a great Catholic ethos. Nathan is in Year 13 and Ben has joined this year in Year 8.

“My wife and I have been very impressed with the Red High from the beginning and our ultimate desire is that it would remain as it is - a Catholic grammar school in South East Down’.”

“We had hoped that both Finn and Conn would follow in their brothers’ footsteps and that all would be attending the same school in due course if that is what they wanted to do.

“However, as part of the amalgamation proposal there is a major concern that both younger boys may have to sit a test to gain a place in a school that will already be oversubscribed from the automatic Category A allocation from the Downpatrick area. Our younger boys will not get the same opportunity that the two older boys did - their choice has been eliminated.”

Mr Owens said that his sons love St Patrick’s and are proud of being students. “They do not understand why a change is being proposed and they want their brothers to be given the same opportunities.”

Mr Owen said he and his wife felt it was equally important that their sons have an equal right of being educated together at a Catholic grammar school.

He pointed out his three main objections to the proposal – that St Patrick’s is being forced to change and the opinion of parents and children is being ignored; their home location in Seaforde means the two younger boys’ future school of choice has been taken away; and the proposal for a 1600-plus pupil school split across three sites is not a suitable alternative to the existing school.