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The last Traveller secondary school in the country told it's to shut down in June

“The fifth years have already said it, their parents have said it – those kids are not going to continue their education next year.”

Image: Google Maps

ST THOMAS’ SPECIAL School in Coolock, Dublin has been notified recently that its funding will be cut in June.

Parents, students and teachers at the secondary school, of which all students are Travellers, have expressed frustration with the sudden closure.

“I think it’s a disgrace to cut funding suddenly and not phase it out so the young lads would have time to get their heads around integration,” one teacher told TheJournal.ie.

I’m not a Traveller myself but if this happened in the country, there’d be outrage.

He says that there’s no argument against integration, the situation isn’t “as black and white as the government is making it out to be”, saying that it’s likely a lot of children won’t return to education in ‘mixed’ schools next September.

Although the school has an open-door policy, its students are all from the Traveller community. The school is being closed as part of an integration policy to help the Travelling and settled communities mix in the education system.

The school has 33 students on its rollbook, with four students in fifth year and two students in sixth year.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Education said that the phasing out of segregated education for Traveller children began in 2006 in line with a government policy developed in consultation with Traveller groups.

In order to ensure a smooth and effective transition of provision for students, the Department are engaging with the school patron and the Educational Welfare Service of Tusla in relation to future education provision for the current student cohort in St Thomas’.

“Tusla’s Educational Welfare Service is available to work with parents to source school places for the current pupil cohort, including students at Leaving Certificate level who would be due to sit exams in 2019.”

But John White, an English teacher who’s been at the school for three years, says those students won’t continue with their education next year.

“The sixth years are fine, they’re finished this year. 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.”

He said that teachers have spent years convincing the students that they should do their Junior and Leaving Cert, and there had been signs that their message was getting through.

“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 response to reports about the short notice given to the school, just months before closure, the Department said that responsibility rests with the school’s patron, the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.

“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.

Meetings at the school in the coming weeks where it’s expected that political, religious, and Traveller representatives will speak to parents and students about their concerns.

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