Dickson Plan is not world class says Minister O’Dowd

“In recent weeks there has been much interest in the Dickson Plan and the potential changes it might face. There has also been a misconception that I am trying to force through the removal of the plan in Craigavon.

I feel it is important to point out that the proposed changes to the delivery of education in the area are being brought forward by the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB), not me. Whatever proposal the SELB decides to publish, I will then consult on. I will listen to the views of everyone with an interest and will look at all the available evidence before making a decision. Whatever decision I do make will be taken in the best educational interests of the young people of the area.

However I do feel that there needs to be some realism injected into the debate.

I have heard the term ‘world class’ used to describe education in the area. I am afraid the facts to do not back this up.

Since the return of devolution in 2007, the proportion of young people leaving school with five GCSEs at grades A*-C or equivalents, including GCSEs in English and maths, has been consistently rising across the north. Since the 2007/8 school year, there has been a 5.7 percentage point rise in the proportion of young people reaching this level. Indeed, in some council areas the increase is in double figures.

Young people in Craigavon, however, are being left behind. The area is one of only two council areas in the north that have seen attainment levels drop over that period. There has been a 2.6 percentage point drop against this measure for young people from this area.

There are variations in attainment in schools across Lurgan and Portadown, however taken together, this is a trend that is bucking the pattern across the north.

The maintained sector in Lurgan has come forward with firm proposals for the future of St Mary’s High School, St Paul’s Junior High School and St Michael’s Grammar School. I would encourage the controlled sector to look at potential solutions for its schools.

Education in the area must evolve to ensure the needs of all young people are being met, not just the few. I would call on everyone with an interest to help shape that evolution and put the needs of children, not institutions, first.”

John O’Dowd

Upper Bann MLA