O’Dowd in fresh row over Grammar schools

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

A parents’ group has challenged Education Minister John O’Dowd after he slammed an education board for failing to merge Craigavon grammars with non-selective schools.

On Wednesday the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) accepted a survey in which over 80 per cent of respondents opposed plans to merge Portadown College and Lurgan College with Craigavon Senior High School.

On Thursday, Mr O’Dowd said the SELB had “failed to come forward with a plan” to resolve the “inequality” of Craigavon’s current system, known as the Dickson Plan. He said the board has a legal duty “to remove barriers” on the basis of equality.

“It is obvious that the current structures being provided are failing too many young people in the Dickson Plan area,” he told the Portadown Times. “I will be seeking robust assurances aligned to a timeframe from the board as to how they intend to eradicate education inequality for the controlled sector in the Dickson Plan area.”

But Nicole Lappin of the Dickson Plan Concerned Parents Group said the minister should not be intervening.

“Otherwise he is pre-empting a consultation which he must later adjudicate on,” she said. “The community has said clearly the Dickson Plan is not to change; we are not aware of any inequality except the Senior High School accommodation definitely needs investment.”

UUP education spokesman Danny Kinahan said the board’s decision should “clear the air” and lead to an inclusive way forward.