'We want it to stay exactly as it is': Parents and students of northside school call for school to remain single-sex

'We want it to stay exactly as it is': Parents and students of northside school call for school to remain single-sex

Parents, staff and students standing in unity while socially distanced outside the grounds of St. Vincent's Girls Secondary School, Cork, to protect the all-girls status and the first all-girls ASD unit in Ireland. They were also joined by some public representatives. Picture Denis Minihane.

ANY PROPOSED amalgamation of three Northside secondary schools has been subject to criticism from parents of students attending one of the schools involved.

Some parents and students of St Vincent's Secondary School expressed their opposition publicly at a peaceful display yesterday.

Described as a "public display of unity," the vigil was held outside St Vincent's Secondary School in a bid to highlight concerns around the proposal.

This follows reports in The Echo from last April which revealed that the trustees from North Monastery, St Vincent’s, and North Presentation schools are in talks to “explore together current and future Catholic educational provision in north Cork city”. It is understood that these discussions could focus on a merging of the three schools.

Save St Vincent's Secondary School, a newly formed group of parents and students, is currently campaigning to prevent the amalgamation.

Parents of students at the Lir ASD Hub in St Vincent's voiced concern about their children's future if the move goes ahead.

Máiréad Hickey, whose daughter Eilish attends the unit there, said her daughter would thrive better in an all-girls setting.

The Blarney woman spoke of how St Vincent’s has supported her daughter.

"Eilish came from a co-ed primary school and was so lonely. I never thought that she would even make it through secondary school. She couldn't sit a test at the time because of the emotional meltdowns. Now-because of St Vincent’s- she is getting 80% to 100% in every exam. The school has done so much for her and we want it to stay exactly as it is."

Máiréad stressed that she doesn't want the progress they have made to be undermined by an amalgamation.

"Every support we can get for Eilish St Vincents have given her."

Lily Foley's daughter Laila is also attending the unit and is due to start transition year in September.

"Our girls came in here broken," Lily said. "They had so many challenges to get to where they are now. They built Laila up. They encouraged and empowered her. Now, she has a voice whereas before she felt invisible.

“On her multi-disciplinary assessment, it said that she would fare better in an all-girls school. She finds being around boys awkward and doesn't want to have to share a class with them."

Staff at St Vincent's Secondary School say they support the parents' opposition to any proposed amalgamation.

A joint statement shed light on their solidarity with parents: "We support the parents in their wishes for this to stay a single-sex school," the statement read. 

Some of the staff who joined parents and students standing in unity while socially distanced outside the grounds of St. Vincent's Girls Secondary School, Cork, to protect the all-girls status and the first all-girls ASD unit in Ireland. Some public representatives were also in attendance. Picture Denis Minihane.
Some of the staff who joined parents and students standing in unity while socially distanced outside the grounds of St. Vincent's Girls Secondary School, Cork, to protect the all-girls status and the first all-girls ASD unit in Ireland. Some public representatives were also in attendance. Picture Denis Minihane.

"Girls in the Northside have the right to choice. We believe they should be educated in an all-girls single-sex school in the locality should they wish to choose this form of education. Staff are supporting parents' calls for this as a longstanding tradition of educating girls in the northside. We wish to continue that tradition for years to come."

Sinn Féin TD for Cork North-Central, Thomas Gould, said he will continue supporting parents in the weeks to come.

"I've been working with parents to organise [yesterday’s] event and will be rolling out more events over the coming weeks," he said. "The students and staff overwhelmingly want the school to remain as it is now. I've contacted the board of management, the trustees, the department of education and the minister supporting this cause.

Three of the students Katie Coleman, Éilish Hickey and Laila Abdelnapy holding letters they wrote when parents, staff and students stood in unity while socially distanced outside the grounds of St. Vincent's Girls Secondary School, Cork, to protect the all-girls status and the first all-girls ASD unit in Ireland. Some public representatives were also in attendance. Picture Denis Minihane.
Three of the students Katie Coleman, Éilish Hickey and Laila Abdelnapy holding letters they wrote when parents, staff and students stood in unity while socially distanced outside the grounds of St. Vincent's Girls Secondary School, Cork, to protect the all-girls status and the first all-girls ASD unit in Ireland. Some public representatives were also in attendance. Picture Denis Minihane.

“At the end of the day, the students are the most important people in this. They have to be listened to. The minister has written back to me and hasn't been notified of any proposed amalgamation as of yet. If the proposal is to be discussed there needs to be a proper consultation."

A date has yet to be set for the consultation process which will be guided by independent facilitator, Frank Smith. No formal proposals have been received by the Department of Education to date.

Local Fianna Fáil councillor Tony Fitzgerald said it's important that the process is pupil-focused.

"It's important that we make sure the process is pupil-focused, bearing in mind the needs of the parents and the teachers," he said.

"There are huge legacies attached to the three schools on the northside of the city. A united effort should be made to come to a consensus regarding the process."

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