A plan by the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church to open a voluntary high school in Northern Ireland has been rejected by the Minister for Education.
The church-created OneSchool Global network announced plans to open the new school in 2019, but the proposal was ultimately rejected.
The church, which already runs schools in Northern Ireland, said it was extremely disappointed that plans to merge two schools into a single, two-site post-primary had been rejected by Michelle McIlveen.
Existing schools in Newry and Knockloughrim, Co Londonderry, are currently educating pupils of all school ages and will continue to operate as normal.
As independent schools they are currently not funded by the Department of Education (DE), but had the proposal been accepted this would have changed.
OneSchool Global educates approximately 10,000 students in 20 countries around the world, 23 of which currently operate across the UK. Parents of pupils currently pay fees of between £3,295 and £10,000 per year depending on the number of children they have enrolled.
The plan would have seen the two schools, which have around 100 students between them, come together under a single headmaster and board.
Pupils study National Curriculum subjects and still earn qualifications such as GCSEs, but the school’s ethos is based on the Christian faith of the Plymouth Brethren, which dates back to 1827.
A total of 68 pupils currently attend school at Knockloughrim School. It attracts students from a catchment area stretching from Belfast to Londonderry.
The Newry campus is attended by 26 post-primary students, some of whom travel from the Republic.
It is understood that a meeting between the governors and former education minister Peter Weir was held in January 2021, where he was briefed on the intention to move the merger plan forward for “the community more wide of Christian parents and families”. The schools also educate some pupils who are not members of the Plymouth Brethren Church.
“The proposal aims to reduce the significant financial burden of providing these schools on the community of Brothers – the schools are not selective, either on the basis of educational ability or the financial wealth of parents,” said the meeting.
“He would see a benefit from the taxes that community members pay, part of which goes to DE, by receiving funding from the government. The proposal calls for equality in these areas. The school, although not inaccessible to all young people, will attract those who belong to the faith community.
Following the rejection of the proposal, after the Education Authority and the Controlled Schools Support Council expressed a number of concerns, OneSchool Global Northern Ireland added: “Our latest inspection reports clearly recognize the value of pastoral care at our two campuses that allows our students to thrive, in addition to the high quality of teaching and learning they receive.
“We will reflect on the detailed report provided by the Department of Education over the coming weeks and see how we can continue to learn from the feedback provided.”