Two Douglas MHKs have said a long term solution needs to be found to solve Ballakermeen High School’s drastic overcrowding.
The school’s permanent capacity is 1,370, not including mobile classrooms. The additional capacity of each mobile classroom is 30 which, would with the two extra ones, would bring the capacity to 1,550.
However the Department of Education, Sport and Culture estimates that 1,750 students will attend Ballakermeen in September 2021, meaning the school would still be 200 students over capacity. The sheer numbers involved also highlight the tremendous job done by the school’s teachers and leaders to ensure the students’ work doesn’t suffer.
The issue came to Gef’s attention when the DESC submitted a planning application to install two new mobile classrooms on the school field, this would add to the four it already has.
And as well as troubling us, it has also concerned the area’s MHKs, Ann Corlett and Chris Thomas. Speaking to Gef, Mr Thomas said: ‘I understand these additional mobile classrooms will be slotted in by the Department around the existing ones. Hardly ideal – for the students, staff and residents. We need to optimise Douglas and eastern secondary school catchment areas and use of premises as soon as possible. Perhaps one secondary school rather than two with years 12 and 13 at St Ninian’s upper school.’ Mr Thomas explained that this could see Years 7 to 11 in both Bemahague and Ballakermeen sharing teaching and other resources and facilities with Years 12 and 13 being run out of the current St Ninian’s upper school site.
For Mrs Corlett, the issue is slightly trickier, as a departmental member, she is bound by both representing the DESC and representing her constituents, but speaking to Gef, she made it clear that she is not happy about the situation and wants to see it resolved.
Mrs Corlett said: ‘First and most importantly, it isn’t just Ballakermeen, it is secondary education in the east of the island and the whole thing does need looking at properly because we have Douglas, Onchan, and Garff, are all including in this, so it has to be what is the plan for secondary education in the east of the island? For Ballakermeen, it has reached a crisis point. Without a doubt, there are far too many students there.
‘I think part of the problem with that is the way that Douglas South has grown over the years with Farm Hill, Saddlestone etc, which all come into Ballakermeen. Mobile classrooms, I don’t believe will provide all of the space that is required. I am just so frustrated with it because I have been flagging it since the day I went into DESC, but it just has not been on the priority list and that is wrong in my opinion, it should have been top of the priority list.’
While boundary changes may seem like a quick fix, Mrs Corlett said that when previous suggestions have been made, they either resulted in children and students from surrounding primary schools being moved around to the extent where some would have gone to four different schools (Murrays Road, School Jubilee, Bemahague and St Ninians) all before sitting their GCSEs.
However both the MHKs did express their support for exploring the idea of running Bemahague and Ballakermeen up to age of 16 (GCSE level) and utilising St Ninians as, in effect, a sixth form college. Mrs Corlett said: ‘That would take 300 children out of Ballakermeen, because that is roughly the number of students in sixth form. But as I say, that needs to be discussed and the options that are available to us, and there are other options, because we have three schools there, what are the options, what’s the best way to deal with it and most importantly, what is best for the children and the young people that are going through our schools?’
Gef raised concerns with the DESC about the overcrowding at Ballakermeen and a spokeswoman said it ‘is committed to ensuring that all students have access to the highest quality learning environment possible and schools offer excellent facilities across the island’.
She added: ‘The student population in the east is higher than other areas of the Island. There is sufficient capacity overall in the east of the island when considering the number of school places and the capacity available at both Ballakermeen and St Ninian’s High School sites. Measures are being explored by the DESC to alleviate capacity issues. The department is working closely with Headteachers to achieve a long term solution to resolve the issues around student numbers in the East. Any broader discussions will involve a number of key stakeholders, and if necessary, will go to public consultation prior to any resolution being finalised.’