School talks stalled by row over speech

Trevor Robinson.
Trevor Robinson.
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There is no immediate prospect of talks taking place between schools in the Dickson Plan area, with a row in Portadown spilling over to Lurgan.

The row has led local MLA Stephen Moutray to call for ‘cool heads’ and offer to facilitate a meeting between the principals.

Lurgan and Portadown Colleges have written a letter to the junior high schools, calling for discussions on one of two suggested dates this month.

However, it is understood that some of the junior high schools, including Clounagh, Killicomaine and Tandragee, are reluctant to enter talks until a long-standing controversy is resolved.

The schools, and leading officials at the Southern Education and Library Board, remain furious about remarks made during the Portadown College speech day last autumn.

They were particularly angry at some of the comments made by both the chairman of Portadown College board of governors, Peter Aiken, and the principal Simon Harper, during their speeches.

Speaking last October Mr Aiken said, “Portadown College is travelling down the straight road while the SELB, the junior high schools and Department of Education and its Minister would attempt to draw us off the straight road.”

Details of the letter sent recently by Mr Harper and Lurgan head Trevor Robinson were published in a recent issue of the ‘MAIL’

The two headmasters insisted that the move by the junior high schools to release examination information later than normal had impacted on their preparations for the following academic year.

However, it is understood that, based on educational grounds, the junior high schools take the view that the March exam date considerably disadvantages all pupils.

They regard it as self-evident that longer teaching time during the final term would benefit all pupils, a view shared by parents.

A spokesperson for the Lurgan College and Portadown College Boards of Governors has now stated: “Following the request from the governors of Lurgan College and Portadown College for a meeting to resolve the current transfer issue, the governors welcome the stated commitment of the Education Authority to facilitate a meeting of all seven Dickson Plan schools. The governors are also deeply encouraged to note that the majority of Chairmen have now indicated that they are willing to attend such a meeting.

“Given the urgency of the need to resolve the transfer issue, the governors of both Colleges look forward to hearing from the Education Authority at the earliest opportunity regarding a proposed date for the meeting.”

DUP MLA Stephen Moutray raised concerns about the increasing tension within education establishments across the Dickson Plan area.

Mr Moutray said, “This most recent twist in the local education saga is concerning and I am currently calling for cool heads with all of the principals and chairs of boards of governors across the educational establishments within the Dickson Plan area.

“A great victory was won when the future of the Dickson plan was secured however; it is unhelpful for what appears to be a breakdown in 
communication between school principals and chairs of boards of governors.

“I would encourage and indeed would be happy to facilitate a meeting of all principals and chairs/vice chairs of boards of governors so 
that we can sit down 
sensibly and plot a way forward.

“It is very clear that a joined up approach is required and some sensible thinking around dates of transfer. I along with DUP colleagues will be meeting the SELB Board representative Mr Gregory Butler in the very near future to try and progress this long running issue.

“I am utterly opposed to tampering with the system of transfer as it currently stands and to that end it is important to discuss and work out a way forward around dates and times of examinations.”