AQO 3138/17-22 – Area Planning Rural Schools

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister of Education what protections exist to ensure rural schools are not disproportionately impacted by area planning.

Minister of Education: Area Planning is a statutory process, requiring comprehensive and meaningful consultation before and after any Development Proposal (DP) is published. The Case for Change (CfC) that sets out the rationale for any change to provision must specifically include confirmation by the proposer that the statutory requirements of the Rural Needs Act (NI) 2016 (where appropriate) have been considered.

On publication, and where rural considerations are engaged, the Department as part of its assessment of evidence sets out its analysis of suitable, alternative, good-quality rural provision. Advice provided to inform a decision takes account of any pertinent statutory duties and, for smaller schools which tend to be located in rural areas, due regard is given to the requirements of the Rural Needs Act (NI) 2016.

This analysis also includes the suitability of arrangements set out by the proposer for the management of matters such as admissions, transfer and application of school transport policy in support of any recommendation to close a school.

Under criterion B (Stable Enrolment Trends) of “Schools for the Future: A Policy for sustainable schools” – the Sustainable Schools Policy (SSP) – a minimum enrolment of 105 is set for a primary school in a rural area. For a primary school in an urban setting, this requirement is a minimum of 140.