'It's a disgrace' – Last secondary school for Irish Travellers in the country shut down

'It's a disgrace' – Last secondary school for Irish Travellers in the country shut down

THE last secondary school for Traveller children in the country has been told to shut down by June to promote cross-community integration.

St Thomas' Special School in Coolock, Dublin have slammed the Department of Education's "outrageous" decision to cut its funding as part of a phasing-out scheme of 'segregated' education institutions.

The scheme began in consultation with Traveller groups 12 years ago, and is aimed at helping the Travelling community and settled communities to intermix.

Although St Thomas' has an open-door policy its students are exclusively from Traveller backgrounds, but parents and teachers say the situation isn’t “as black and white as the government is making it out to be."

English teacher John White said the move would not achieve its goal as it’s likely a lot of children won’t return to education in ‘mixed’ schools next September.

“The sixth years are fine, they’re finished this year," he told the Journal. "But the fifth years have already spent a year here, and they’ve said it, their parents have said it – those kids are not going to continue their education next year.

“The third years are in the same boat. In the Travelling community, when you’re 16 things change and you’re expected to start looking for a job".

The school has 33 pupils altogether, with four students in fifth year and two students in sixth year.

Mr White added that staff have spent years trying to convince students to do their Junior and Leaving Cert, with little success.

He said: "We have three 5th years this year, there was nine in their class last year. Those lads came back – despite a lot of ridicule from their own peers pressuring them, they stepped up.

"We’ve spent three or four years building these lads up, and just as they start to believe, the system fails them and the department has decided to close it down."

In a statement to the paper, the Department of Education rejected accusations of short notice given to the school, saying that responsibility rests with the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin as the school's patron.

A spokesperson said: “The Department of Education and Skills has been engaging with the patron of St Thomas’ for many years to progress the transfer of its student cohort to the mainstream school system in line with this agreed national policy.

"It is important to note that, as with all schools under private patronage, the decision in relation to school closure, amalgamation etc. rests with the patron."

St Thomas' will host a series of meetings in the coming weeks to allow parents and students to discuss their concerns with representatives of political, religious, and Traveller groups.