D-Day for Dickson Plan as board meets

The vast majority of the 5,000 responses to proposed changes in the Dickson Plan have come out against any amalgamation of Lurgan College with Craigavon Senior High, the ‘MAIL’ understands.

The responses were to be revealed yesterday, Wednesday - as the ‘MAIL’ went to press - at a meeting of the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB).

Option A, which proposes joining Lurgan College and Craigavon Senior High School on a single campus, has come in for strong criticism from a number of parents, who have set up concerned parents’ groups.

The board was expected to make a decision yesterday on whether to proceed with Option A - a meeting which became shrouded in controversy and confusion over whether it would be open to the public or not.

One concerned parents’ representative Nicole Lappin said: “If there are legal reasons for holding it in committee then I can accept that but if there’s no sound reason I would be very concerned.”

Local MLA Stephen Moutray also expressed his concern: ““This is another attempt on the SELB’s part to keep elected representatives, principals and most importantly the public in the dark. They don’t want the public to hear the results of the most recent questionnaire.”

He said there was “every indication” that most questionnaires would demonstrate that people have rejected Option A.

However, the board issued a statement to point out: “At its monthly meeting on Wednesday the Board will receive a presentation on the findings from the recent consultation carried out with governors, staff and parents from the relevant schools in relation to the Board’s proposals for updating the Dickson Plan.

“No decision has been taken to hold any discussions ‘behind closed doors’.

“In line with standing orders, it would be a matter for Board members to decide during the meeting whether they wished to take a particular item ‘in committee’.

“After Board members have had a chance to discuss the consultation report at Wednesday’s meeting, it will be made available for viewing on the SELB website.”

According to a source, initial indications from the questionnaires show overwhelming opposition to the proposed merger.

Around 13,500 questionnaires were distributed to parents of all children within the two-tier system and feeder primary schools, with just under 5,000 forms returned.

Those taking part in the survey were asked to write their suggested alternative on the back of the sheet, and it is believed most respondents have called for the status quo to be retained, while others call for talks with all sides so a compromise can be reached.

Both the DUP and the UUP have called for Option A to be removed and dialogue to begin to come up with “a workable solution”.

A delegation of Craigavon Ulster Unionists recently met the board’s chief executive Gavin Boyd and chairperson Plunkett Campbell to discuss the proposals.

Education spokesman Danny Kinahan MLA said, “We had a frank meeting with the top officials in the board.

“We pressed them on where their consultation is going, and to confirm that their ‘Option A’ is effectively dead in the water.”

He concluded: “It is clear that there has been a massive public rejection of the Option A proposal.”