SHOCK has been expressed as it has emerged one of Ballymoney’s best-known educational establishments - Dalriada ‘Prep’ - is to close.

Tuesday, 13th March 2012, 9:15 am

The school has been central to the education of generations of children but years of tradition will come to an end as part of a phased closure of the Dalriada School Preparatory Department.

Many in the local community and beyond have connections to the primary school but now pupils in the junior classes will have to find new primary schools come September and staff face redundancy.

However, the ‘Prep’ will remain open for the current Year Five and Year Six pupils to complete their primary education without disruption.

The school said the decision to close the ‘Prep’ was taken with a heavy heart but was prompted by falling roll numbers and harsh financial realities.

They admitted the ‘credit crunch’ impacted on them as the Department of Education had reduced funding which in turn led to an increase in fees to send children to the ‘Prep’ and for many families that was “prohibitive”.

A statement supplied by the school said: ‘At a special Governors’ meeting on Tuesday, 6th March, 2012, the Board of Governors of Dalriada School reluctantly agreed to a phased closure of the Preparatory Department.

‘The decision was reached after consultation with staff and parents of the Preparatory Department. As a result, classes will not be available from Reception to Year 5 in September 2012. However, the phased closure will allow current pupils in Year 5 and Year 6 the opportunity to complete their primary education at Dalriada School Preparatory Department.

‘The decision to implement a phased closure was taken due to falling rolls, particularly in the junior classes, resulting in the Preparatory Department being no longer financially viable.

‘The reduction in funding to Prep. schools in September 2010 by the Department of Education necessitated a significant increase in fees for parents. This, coupled with the current economic situation, resulted in an alarming drop in pupil numbers and despite strenuous efforts to attract new pupils, the increase in fees proved prohibitive.

‘Also, following the recent publication of the Primary Area Planning document by the North Eastern Education and Library Board which examines the sustainability of schools, the Prep. Department does not meet specific indicators of identified criteria. This includes the recommended minimum of four teachers at a primary school, a stable enrolment and a sound financial position.

‘Unfortunately, the phased closure will mean that parents will have to find alternative educational provision for the small number of children who are currently in the junior classes.

‘However, it is the Prep. staff who face the real hardship with a number of teachers and support staff facing redundancy.

‘The Board of Governors of Dalriada School expresses its thanks to the Prep. Dept. staff for the superb teaching and high quality pastoral care given to generations of children.

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‘The most recent results in the AQE tests are a fitting example of the high quality education provided by the school. The loyalty and commitment of the Prep. staff has been outstanding over the years.

‘Praise is also due to the active and supportive Parent Teacher Association of the Preparatory Department who have worked tirelessly to raise funds to purchase additional facilities and equipment to enhance the children’s experience over the years.

‘Dalriada Prep. Dept. is the last remaining Preparatory Department in the North Eastern Education and Library Board. Ballyclare High School Prep. Dept. closed in 1999, Larne Grammar and Rainey Endowed both closed in 2001 and Ballymena Academy Prep. Dept. closed in 2002,’ said the statement.

North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey expressed his sadness at the news that Dalriada Preparatory Department is to close.

Mr Storey said: “Very regrettably the Department of Education cut funding over a number of years. This applies to both devolution but also to successive Direct Rule cuts prior to that. Numbers have also fallen recently. But this will still come as a shock to many people.

“I know that very many children benefited from the dedication and expertise of teachers at the Dalriada Preparatory Department over many years.

“Indeed, according to the Department of Education’s own review, preparatory departments offer a tangible, objective and measurable standard of excellence in education.

“That review indicated that the results at Key Stage I ‘show the preparatory departments attaining significantly higher results in KS1 in English and Maths. The percentage of pupils in preparatory departments attaining level 3 in English is more than double that of primary schools. There are similar results in Maths. It continued by saying that ‘a similar pattern is reflected’ at Key Stage II.’

“This is a very sad piece of news that is unfortunately reflective of the pressures that are being brought to bear across the entire education and the rest of government because of government imposed cuts to our budget,” said Mr Storey.

Ballymoney councillor Roma McAfee, who previously worked at the ‘Prep’, said it a sad day for the school.

“The staff could not have done more for the children and it is concerning that staff are likely to lose their jobs.

“There will also be an impact on children who will have to move to new schools. The ‘Prep’ was recognised as a good school,” said the councillor.