DUP seeks Dickson meeting

Public representatives and members of the public campaiging for the retention of the Dickson Plan.
Public representatives and members of the public campaiging for the retention of the Dickson Plan.

The DUP has accused the chairman of the Southern Education and Library Board of refusing to meet them about plans which critics fear could transform two Craigavon grammar schools into comprehensives.

The board has denied the claims, saying chairman Plunkett Campbell is willing to meet but that it “had been difficult to schedule due to holidays”.

Under Area Plan proposals backed by the SELB and Education Minister John O’Dowd, Portadown College and Lurgan College may be merged with non-selective schools.

Unique in Northern Ireland, the Dickson Plan in Craigavon sees academic selection take place through assessments at age 14 – rather than in specialist exams in Primary Seven.

In a statement yesterday, the DUP said that a Freedom of Information request had uncovered that only four people had responded to the board in favour of the changes – while 3,790 had opposed them.

DUP Upper Bann MLA Stephen Moutray said the board was “riding roughshod” over people.

“Rather than listen to the community there has been a concerted effort to amalgamate the Senior High School with the grammar schools in both Lurgan and Portadown.”

The DUP has requested an urgent meeting with the SELB chairman.

“To date, this meeting has been refused,” said Mr Moutray.

A board spokesman yesterday told the News Letter that although it has received “numerous expressions of support” for the status quo, it remains “wholly unconvinced” the status quo is capable of attracting adequate funding.

He said there was “clear evidence of orchestrated support” for the status quo and that the proposals will still provide high quality education through the “selective (grammar) element of the bi-lateral Lurgan and Portadown Colleges”.

Normally politicians meet the chief executive rather than the chairperson of the board, said the spokesman, adding that the chairperson said the meeting request had not been refused – it had been difficult to schedule due to holidays, but Mr Campbell is willing to meet.