Janet Doud, the pioneering principal of Taughmonagh Primary School is in a quandary. She has just settled into a beautiful new school in the strongly unionist area of south Belfast but finds herself short of space to deliver the quality education she believes her pupils need and deserve.
As a result, some of the classes are delivered in the corridors of the school, adjacent to fire exits. While grateful for her state-of-the-art premises and enhanced funding arrangements which benefit low income areas like Taughmonagh, the principal finds that to really exploit the benefits of new programmes created for schools like Taughmonagh, she needs two more classrooms.
But that’s where the bureaucracy throws up roadblocks. For to date, no one within the educational authorities has found a way to provide the £60,000 (maximum) needed to provide two additional mobile classrooms which could resolve this dilemma and allow principal Doud to get on with educating these children for the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.
This week, I visited Taughmonagh in the company of Alderman Tom Ekin, Alliance Party representative for South Belfast, and loyalist community leader Jackie McDonald, who fought long and hard for the new school. We found the pupils in fine form and fine voice as they prepared for the Harvest Festival school show by singing for us.
We have now written a letter to the education authorities asking them to show the imagination and flexibility needed to resource Taughmonagh to the principal’s plan.
There has been much talk about the onerous challenges facing working class Protestant children in our school system. The education minister John O’Dowd has done great work to provide a level playing field for all working class children over recent times. It’s my hope that he use his good offices to find a way to have those mobile classrooms in place as soon as possible so that on my next visit to the talented children of Taughmonagh, they can sing for me in the classrooms rather than the corridors.
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