Dickson Plan ‘threat’

THE DUP have rubbished suggestions of underhand attempts by ‘outsiders’ to undermine the Dickson Plan, saying the biggest threat to the two-tier system is from within.

The party’s education spokesperson Mervyn Storey and Upper Bann MP David Simpson have said the future of the Dickson Plan lies in the hands of schools who are part of it.

Mervyn Storey told the Lurgan College speech day last Friday, “I have had over the last number of months various meetings with the principals and boards of governors of the schools within the Dickson Plan area in an attempt to preserve what is valued by the majority of schools and parents.

“While recognising that no plan or process is perfect, I have been clear in those discussions that the future of the Dickson Plan is in the hands of those schools who are part of it and who have contributed to it over its long existence. I fear that the greatest threat to its existence comes from within rather than any mischievous or malevolent plan from outside.”

Lurgan College vice principal David Bell, in delivering a speech penned by principal Trevor Robinson, said: “The challenges facing the SELB and the Controlled Sector in Craigavon are manifold: how to manage a short term dip in numbers while planning for a significant increase within ten years; how to address the accommodation shortcomings at the Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High School; how to address the current and projected ‘unrecoverable’ financial deficit currently experienced by Craigavon Senior High School over both of its campuses; how to ensure that the funding for the new builds planned for Lurgan and Portadown Colleges is not lost; how to ensure that the schools estate is best utilised in order to ensure that all children have access to the highest quality education.”

Mr Bell said the College is behind the continuation of the Dickson Plan and the retention of all three Lurgan schools and campuses “with their individual identity, ethos and expertise”.

“Retention must mean retention and not a short term fix with a long term objective of the amalgamation of the schools. I do not need to point out that such an amalgamation would result in the unacceptable loss of one of Lurgan’s gems, one of its leading lights, its controlled grammar school, he added.

After the prize day, North Antrim MLA Mr Storey stressed that his party would block any attempt to remove academic selection.

“Indeed the DUP have copper fastened the question of selection by insisting that the Education Bill currently before the Assembly includes a provision making it clear that selection remains a matter for boards of governors alone.”

Upper Bann MP David Simpson said, “The future of the Dickson Plan lies in the hands of the principals of schools within the area and their Boards of Governors. Any changes to the Plan would have to be agreed by those schools and therefore they hold the future in their own hands. Anyone making wild suggestions about some unseen plan to undermine the Dickson Plan are actually undermining confidence in schools within their own area.

“The notion that the wider Craigavon area is to be used for some educational pilot aimed at rolling a comprehensive education model across Northern Ireland is rubbish.”