Education Minister John O’Dowd has accused the Southern Education and Library Board of “failure” after it withdrew controversial proposals to transform the Dickson Plan.
The board scrapped Option A during a meeting on Wednesday last after Councillor Ronnie Harkness proposed that it appoint a facilitator to lead fresh talks on a viable alternative.
The SELB acted after an overwhelming number of parents rejected Option A, which proposed merging Lurgan College and Craigavon Senior High School.
Mr O’Dowd claimed the Dickson Plan is “failing young people” and demanded “assurances and a timetable” from the board on how it will resolve the “inequality” .
He said, “I am deeply concerned that despite recognition now for several years that all pupils in the controlled sector do not have access to equitable educational provision, the board has failed to come forward with a plan to resolve this inequality.
“The board has a legal duty to act to remove barriers to the provision of its services on the basis of equality.”
Unionist politicians welcomed the shelving of Option A, but SELB officers underlined there must be changes, especially for the benefit of Craigavon Senior High, which has been the “poor relation” of the Dickson Plan.
DUP MLA Stephen Moutray welcomed the SELBs common sense approach to the future of the much-loved Dickson Plan: “I believe they have listened and acted in accordance with the will of the overwhelming majority of individuals who responded to the most recent consultation.
“This has been a long hard battle and I am pleased that the many educationalists, parents, pupils, and those from the community at large who worked alongside our ‘Save the Dickson Plan’ campaign have today been listened to by the SELB.
“Whilst we acknowledge there may be flaws relating to the accommodation within the current Dickson Plan system it is our intention to resolve this issue without compromising the system itself. We will not be found wanting in working with everyone to find an outcome that will deliver for all of our children.”
UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said: “The SELB’s Option A proposal sent ripples of anger throughout the local community
“Finally the SELB has been forced to listen to the loud voices of the parents, pupils and teachers of Craigavon and Tandragee and has seen sense!
“They have now announced a move to involve everyone in discussions about the best way forward – something which I and my colleagues called for at our meeting with the SELB.
“I have consistently called for Option A to be removed from the table before any meaningful discussions can be undertaken and I put this point directly to the Chief Executive and Chairman at our meeting.
“Finally the Board have started to do the right thing.“