Education changes on the horizon

Community News
Community News

Major changes in education are looming in Northern Ireland with the five area boards being ditched to make way for an all-embracing NI Education Authority. The new order will have quite a responsibility, given the wide range of systems serving such a small province.

Two sectors of the education system in the local area are reported in today’s Portadown Times. These are the Dickson Plan for Education, covering the 11-18 age group, and special education at Ceara School, catering for 3-19-year-olds with learning difficulties.

The Dickson Plan is negotiating stormy waters these days – ever since Education Minister John O’Dowd made his determined attempt to dismantle it, replacing it with a ‘united’ three junior highs – Clounagh, Killicomaine and Tandragee. The idea was to merge them under one board of governors and one principal. And in the upper echelons, Portadown College and Craigavon Senior High School were to share the same campus, but in separate accommodation.

The O’Dowd move was shelved, temporarily at least, when 90-per-cent-plus parents voted against. The fall-out still remains, and the schools are far from united. But they must never lose sight of the fact that the dreaded 11-plus is consigned to history here, especially given the problems being caused by the unofficial replacement tests at the various grammars in Northern Ireland.

A symptom of this disunity between the junior highs and senior highs is the timing of the transfer tests, and readers can digest the latest in the saga in today’s Portadown Times. It may seem a trivial matter, given that the timing is not a new phenomenon.

However, there is a lack of unity in Dickson corridors these days. The schools are not speaking with one voice after the O’Dowd initiative. There has been a tactical withdrawal, but the Minister has not had a change of heart pending the switch to the new authority.

Craigavon Senior High is far from happy. Retired principal David Mehaffey made this abundantly clear at the turn of the new school year when he insisted his students were not receiving a fair deal under Dickson – adding that they never had, since it was mooted over 40 years ago.

Over in Lurgan, there simply aren’t the numbers in the junior high and ‘Tech’ population to follow the original Dickson template. The grammars, though – Portadown and Lurgan Colleges - are totally committed. It has all been placed on hold pending the changes after April 1.

And speaking of April 1, hopefully the NI Education Authority will listen to the voice of Ceara principal Dr Peter Cunningham as he calls for back-up training for the over-19s leaving the special education sector.

Dr Cunningham puts the argument persuasively in today’s Portadown Times, and we will continue the campaign, with the demise of the old boards and the advent of the new authority.

Ceara has a wide range of abilities, educated in the spirit of equality and with children of all religions, or none, on the rolls. And Dr Cunningham is generous in his thanks for help he has received from Minister O’Dowd and from local MP David Simpson. Education in general has much to learn from Ceara Special School.