Letter says September move for school is not possible

Craigavon Senior High School, Lurgan.
Craigavon Senior High School, Lurgan.

The Education Authority (EA) has backed proposals by the governors of Craigavon Senior High School (CSHS) to close the run-down Lurgan campus and bus its 200 pupils to Portadown – with September 2018 the target date.

After the story broke last week this newspaper has been given access to confidential minutes of the CSHS board of governors’ April and May meetings. They indicate that the governors had called for the transfer to Portadown to begin in September 2017.

But a letter from Director of Education John Collins, dated April 6 and presented at a governors’ meeting four days later, has stated that September 2017 “would not be possible”, as a detailed development proposal must be prepared.

His letter adds, “It is more likely that it will be September 2018 if the proposal is eventually approved by the Minister. I can only apologise for raising expectations, which simply cannot be realised.”

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Controlled Schools Support Council, Mr Barry Mulholland, has stressed that certain criteria must follow the development proposal: Consultation with interested parties – governors, parents and staff; publication of the proposals in the press; a statutory consultation/objection period.

Mr Collings wrote: “It is the advice of the officers, including the EA’s chief legal adviser, that the operation of moving to one site represents a significant change in the school.”

The April meeting minutes stated: “The overall reaction of the governors was of disappointment that there would be no progression by September 2017. There was also frustration that, after making their decision (re. a single site) on the basis that a development proposal was not needed, they had now been told that this was necessary.”

The report went on: “Others had mixed feelings. They had hoped for a positive review by the next academic year, but they had concerns at the way the decision was made and felt there would be merit in using the time now available to ensure the correct procedures were carried out.

“Staff representative said they had been optimistic they would have something positive to report to their colleagues, but were disappointed that nothing had changed.”

It was agreed that the conditions at Lurgan Campus were unacceptable - the expression ‘Third World’ has often been used. Mr Collings pointed out that the move to one site had been recommended seven years ago, and he shared the concern that things were not moving quickly enough.

It’s understood that three possible proposals were under scrutiny by the governors – the one site option; a plan to refurbish the Lurgan Campus; and dividing the students between the Portadown Campus and the SRC (Southern Regional College). But the single site and bussing proposal was the only one presented to the EA.

Since the controversy broke last week, there has been heavy traffic on social media, some dismissing the story, and others furious that all moves have been in committee.

But the behind-closed-doors governors’ meetings have confirmed the proposal – which must ultimately be presented to the Department. The final decision will be made by the Minister – or a Permanent Secretary if there is no Minister in place. The consultations, the minutes state, could be carried out by Christmas.

The proposal is for mobile classrooms at the Portadown Campus, with modular accommodation in place for the Lurgan 200 as soon as possible.

Governors stressed that the single site move should be a temporary one, and that everyone – from governors to EA and Department should work towards a permanent solution in Lurgan.

They also assured parents that the Lurgan campus of the school will operate as normal this September.

The chairperson of the board said, “The Board of Governors of Craigavon Senior High School would like to assure parents and guardians of current and prospective pupils that the Lurgan campus of the school will operate as normal in September 2017.

“As highlighted in the press article on May 31, 2017, the Education Authority is presently engaged in consultation with stakeholders.

“The Board of Governors continue to work closely with the EA to ensure the school is best placed to meet the needs of all its pupils.”