THE Education Minister has been accused of effectively holding a gun to the head of Portadown College after it was once again overlooked from John O’Dowd’s list of new-build projects this week.
The Minister announced a £220 million capital build programme on Tuesday, but neither Portadown or Lurgan College were among the 22 schools included on the list.
Portadown College has been lobbying for years for a new building, and is in dire need of upgrading, but the prospects of a new-build look further away than ever, according to MLAs Stephen Moutray and Sydney Anderson.
The DUP Assemblymen said Mr O’Dowd is deliberating trying to replace the Dickson Plan with a comprehensive-style system, and they believe there will be no prospect of a new build in Portadown or Lurgan until the schools sign up for controversial collegiate proposals.
Under those plans, five schools, Portadown College, Tandragee Junior High School, Killicomaine and Clounagh junior highs, and Craigavon Senior High, would be run by one principal and one board of governors while retaining their own buildings.
Mr Moutray and Mr Anderson said, “The Minister is effectively holding a gun to the head of Portadown College. Unless the school signs up for the collegiate proposal there is no prospect of it getting the new-build that it so badly needs. What we are seeing from the Minister is a deliberate assault on grammar schools and on the Dickson Plan.”
Meanwhile, the education board says it is awaiting the go-ahead from the Department of Education before it publishes the consultation report and revised area plan.
The Portadown Times understands that, in relation to the Collegiate, there has been no radical change to the original proposal in the revised area plan, but there is emphasis on the need for more consultation and local solutions.
In Lurgan, an amalgamation between St Mary’s JHS, St Paul’s JHS and St Michael’s Grammar School - all part of the Dickson Plan - looks set to go ahead with the announcement of funding for a new-build school.
News of the go-ahead for the Lurgan project were criticised by Mr Moutray and Mr Anderson as a “further example and continuation of Mr O’Dowd’s ideological obsession with promoting the Irish medium, comprehensive and integrated sectors at the expense of the controlled sector in Upper Bann”.
“Both these excellent schools urgently require new builds and upgrading, and we have been meeting with the principals and lobbying on their behalf for the past decade and more, but now we have yet further evidence that this Minister’s own personal ideology is driving his agenda.
“...The Dickson Plan has served, and continues to serve, the needs of young people of the area extremely well, and yet the Minister seems determined to do all within his power to weaken and undermine it at every opportunity. We regard this as totally unacceptable, and we intend to write to Mr O’Dowd to pursue this matter further”.
Meanwhile, Peter Aiken, chairman of the board, refused to be drawn on the College’s omission from the new-build list. He stressed the governors are currently looking at the area plans proposals in terms of what they will mean for their pupils.
He said, “We have undertaken our own consultation and on January 31 the governors will be looking at the results of that.
“We will be putting our views forward to the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) in early February.”