THE Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said it would be “totally opposed” to the closure of Markethill High School, given its importance in the rural area.
In a letter to the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB), the union, which has three regional offices and 1,711 members in Co Armagh, outlined its reasons for supporting the school.
Markethill High, like other post-primary schools, is currently the subject of a consultation process being carried out by education boards across the province, with a closing date of October 26 for all comments.
Options include amalgamating the school with The Royal School and/or City of Armagh and relocating it or leaving it on its current site.
The UFU said it was clear that Markethill High School satisfied the six criteria for a successful, sustainable school, highlighting acccessibility and strong links with the community as the most important.
The letter said, “Markethill High School is at the centre of a substantial and widening rural catchment area, ... reflected in the increasing year on year enrolment applications to the extent that it is an over-subscribed school with currently its highest number of pupils ever.
“In addition, Markethill High School continues to further its links with the wider local community and has recently added the provision of a recreation centre with gym facilities to the many other services which it already provides and facilitates.”
It added, “The UFU has severe difficulties in understanding the rationale for any proposal to close Markethill High School and indeed we would be totally opposed to the closure of a school of such importance within its substantial rural catchment area and which has and continues to provide a tremendous, constantly improving service to our members and their families within County Armagh.
“The UFU has been advocating for some considerable time the need for schools to provide education in the areas of agri-science and agri-food. Not only would this help advance a mutual understanding between rural and urban... but would also raise the profile of the agri-food industry as a viable career path, particularly under the wider difficult economic circumstances.
“It must be recognised that the food and drink industry is responsible for 20 per cent of our private sector employment and deserves greater recognition for this. The UFU is therefore particularly pleased at the proactive and forward thinking approach which has been taken by Markethill High School with its intended introduction next year of GCSE Agriculture and Land Use to meet a real employment market need in a growing industry. The UFU understands that this is also to be enhanced further with the possible provision of a sixth form at Markethill High School.”
The letter was signed by six UFU officials, including the local representatives, who said they would be happy to meet with members of the board if necessary to discuss any points raised.