The Southern Education and Library Board has set out its rationale for restructuring the Dickson Plan two-tier system in an information leaflet being issued to parents this week.
It is understood some 12,000 leaflets are being circulated in line with the Board’s decision to embark upon a local consultation exercise in relation to its contentious Option A proposals.
The Lurgan Mail has obtained a copy of the material despatched yesterday to schools, including recognised feeder primaries, for onward circulation to parents, staff and governors.
In addition to the leaflet, which offers historical context, makes the case for the structural changes envisaged in Option A and explains potential next steps in the process, there is a short questionnaire.
As well as seeking to gauge support for each aspect of the Option A proposals, the questionnaire has a blank section for respondents to “suggest any viable alternative proposals.”
Under Option A, Lurgan College and the local campus of Craigavon Senior High School would be brought together under a single management structure as a bi-lateral school with selective and non-selective intakes.
The SELB claimed last week that the enlarged Lurgan College, expected to educate around 660 pupils, would retain its officialstatus as a Controlled Grammar.
In its leaflet, the board insists it “wants to safeguard the Dickson Plan for the future through the maintenance of a two-tier system of viable and sustainable schools.”
Although critics claim that Option A represents a radical departure from Dickson, the board asserts that its proposals are true to fundamental Dickson principles, notably automatic transfer from primary school with delayed academic selection determining the pupil’s path from age 14.
Some opponents of Option A have accused the Board of following the ideological agenda of Education Minister John O’Dowd, who is opposed to academic selection and has repeatedly declared Dickson ‘not fit for purpose’.
However the SELB leaflet not only reiterates the Board’s previously expressed support for the Dickson Plan but makes clear that Option A would retain academic selection at age 14.
It also acknowledges that the “education provided by the schools in the Dickson Plan system has generally been good,” while highlighting the “major structural weaknesses” which it says need addressed to ensure some pupils are not disadvantaged.
In making the case for structural change, the board draws attention to sustainability concerns surrounding Craigavon Senior High School centred on the difficulties caused by being a two-year school operating on split sites.
In its leaflet, the Board directly refutes suggestions that it is working to a Department of Education plan and clarifies that “the Education Minister has no role” until a potential later stage of the process.
“These proposals have been put forward by the Board following consultation with schools over a number of years,” says the SELB leaflet, which documents previous processes that have not produced consensus on the way forward.
The Minister would only become involved if, following the current consultation with governors, staff and parents, the Board decides to publish a formal development proposal which would trigger a two-month public consultation.
“Following the end of the public consultation period, the Minister would make a decision either to approve or reject the proposal,” the leaflet explains.Completed questionnaires must be returned to the SELB in a pre-paid envelope by January 10, with responses received informing a consultation report to be presented to the Board before it decides on whether to publish a Development Proposal.
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