THE Department of Education has declined to comment on claims that a new comprehensive education system for Northern Ireland could be piloted on the Dickson Plan in Craigavon.
The claim is being made by Alderman Arnold Hatch, a governor of Clounagh Junior High School in Portadown and UUP deputy mayor of Craigavon. He believes the fears of a comprehensive model being based on the Dickson Plan are well-founded – and that the resulting system could be rolled out right across Northern Ireland.
An official Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) recommendation, under the Department of Education’s area plan for post-primary schools, is to merge five schools in the Portadown area into a collegiate model under one principal and board of governors.
Currently Craigavon borough’s unique system sees academic selection/election take place at age 14, but sources in the area have told the News Letter that they fear a comprehensive system being imposed on them.
Mr Hatch told the News Letter: “The reason fears are being expressed under plans to merge five post-primary schools into one is that there has been insufficient consultation with the people that it will affect most – the parents and children attending the contributory primary schools.
“There is also the fear that the current and previous Sinn Fein ministers are opposed to selection at any age either at 11 or 14 years. In fact the reasons given for not approving justifiable new school buildings for Portadown College and Lurgan College was because they operated selection at 14 years. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that Mr O’Dowd wants 11 to 19 comprehensive schools throughout Northern Ireland and he is on record as saying that he wants to roll out the Craigavon area-based planning model across the Province.”
He called on the SELB to “facilitate open meetings and explain to parents what they are proposing” and called on it to “give more time for real discussions” before the area plan consultation closes on October 26.
The Department of Education and SELB both declined to comment on Mr Hatch’s comments.
Lurgan Junior High School Board of Governors have accepted the SELB proposal on the basis it will “retain a modernised two-tier system; automatic transfer at 11 not dependant on the outcome of a selection test; a strong support for retention of academic excellence and equality of access to appropriate education for all young people”.