Grammar schools in Craigavon have been given a reprieve from an education board plan to turn them into what critics have described as comprehensive non-selective schools.
Last June the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) voted to merge Portadown College and Lurgan College with Craigavon Senior High School (CSHS) causing concern among many parents.
Sinn Fein Education Minister John O’Dowd had branded the Dickson Plan, which operates in the area, not fit for purpose.
In it, children are educated in all-ability but academically streamed junior high schools for three years after primary school age, before they transfer to grammars or non-selective colleges.
The SELB met yesterday to consider the results of a survey of 13,000 households about the way forward for schools in the area.
Over 4,800 households took part in the survey and 80 per cent of respondents rejected the proposal to merge grammars with all-ability schools.
There has been an intense campaign against the board plan by many parents.
The SELB plans had aroused fears that the education minister was trying to use the Dickson Plan schools to pilot a scheme that would eliminate grammar schools by merging them with non-selective schools in new “super-campuses”.
The board yesterday accepted that there was overwhelming opposition to its merger plan, but decided to hold a fresh consultation on the matter.
“Having been presented with the responses of the written consultation board, members accepted that there was insufficient support to proceed,” a SELB spokesman said.
“The board unanimously agreed to embark upon a new wider consultation with stakeholders aimed at addressing issues within Craigavon controlled sector, and agreed the best way forward for post-primary provision in the area.”
Peter Aiken, chairman of the Board of Governors at Portadown College, was “pleased that the SELB have finally listened to the community”.
Upper Bann DUP MLA Stephen Moutray said the board was proposing “a comprehensive-type system, merging senior high schools with grammar schools, but this has now been clearly rejected by parents”.
He added: “This is really a reprieve for grammar schools in the Craigavon area”.
Armagh councillor Paul Berry said it was clear the plan had been “totally rejected by the vast majority of respondents”.
Meanwhile, Stormont’s education committee was assured by Minister O’Dowd yesterday that no school will lose money through plans to distribute more money to schools which have a higher number of pupils receiving free school meals.
The minister had 15,000 responses to his proposals, with 77 per cent against it.