MLA calls for bespoke high school in Lurgan after ‘shocking’ suspension figures revealed

Craigavon Senior High School, Lurgan Campus. INLM39-221.
Craigavon Senior High School, Lurgan Campus. INLM39-221.

A Craigavon school, which has seen the greatest number of pupil suspensions in the Upper Bann area, has ‘appalling facilities’, says one local politician.

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie was commenting on ‘shocking’ figures which revealed Craigavon Senior High School suspended 53 during the 2017/18 academic year.

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie MC

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie MC

Mr Beattie blamed the appalling facilities at the school which is split over two sites as having a negative impace on pupils.

And he called for a ‘more robust disciplinary process’ across the area.

There were 241 suspensions at schools in the Upper Bann area during the academic year.

The figures are wide ranging with Craigavon Senior High School racking up 53 suspensions while Portadown College has just five.

Brownlow Integrated College had 19. Ballyoran Primary School had 16 suspensions with Killicomaine JHS nine and Clounagh JHS just eight.

Craigavon Senior High School had 53 suspensions while Lurgan College had none.

Brownlow Integrated College had 19. Lurgan Junior High 22, Lismore 38 and St Ronan’s 20.

Mr Beattie said: “It is clear that discipline has become a lost art over the years and in many cases enforcing discipline or social values has become the specified task of schools.

“Recent figures released in respect to pupil suspensions from school are shocking. Over 4,000 pupils were suspended in NI over the 2017/18 academic year - some pupils as young as four. In Upper Bann the figure is at 241 pupils suspended but this does not take into account individuals suspended on multiple occasions.

“The picture is very different from school to school and it is clear that some schools suffer more than others – that is not to lay the blame at teachers or principles but to point out there may be particular reasons why numbers are higher in certain sectors.

“For example Craigavon SHS had 53 suspensions while Portadown College had five and Lurgan College had none.

“Having argued that a two years school on a split site with appalling facilities (Craigavon Senior High) does have a negative effect on pupils it is clear that those schools, in this case the Grammar sector, with a strong identity and good facilities are less prone to discipline issues.

“This for me is a clear argument for a bespoke High School in Lurgan. There should also be a degree of concern for any primary school that has suspensions.

“However it is important to remember, our teachers have serious challenges to deal with. In no way should we minimise the task faced by our schools, principals and teachers,” said Mr Beattie.

All schools mentioned were contacted for a comment but only a few put forward statements.

Brownlow Integrated College Principal Mr SJ Creber said: “We have high expectations of academic work and pupil behaviours and, as such, suspensions reflect that we do not tolerate poor behaviour.”

The principal at Lismore, Mrs Fionnuala O’Kane, said they have high standards of behaviour and high expectations of all their pupils.

She said: “Our recent Inclusion Quality Mark and Centre of Excellence status for inclusive practice demonstrates our ethos as evidenced in practice.

“Having high expectations and high aspirations then, it is no surprise that Lismore’s performance in public examinations both at GCSE and A Level have improved year on year for the last four years.

“As part of our school ethos... sanctions in Lismore are administered to correct and improve behaviour, not to punish pupils.” They work hard with pupils, staff, parents and outside agencies to create and maintain the optimum learning and working environment.

She said she was mindful of her duty of care to staff and pupils ‘and suspension enables me to exercise that duty... both to the pupil suspended and the rest of the school community’ allowing her to maintain a high quality learning environment’ for all.

She concluded: “Suspending a pupil for serious breaches of conduct and behaviour is only one way of many, I demonstrate my duty of care to staff.

“The procedure for suspension is what we must use as outlined by our Employing Authorities and the Department of Education – to work outside these parameters is beyond the jurisdiction of principals and Governors.”.

Portadown College Principal, Mr Simon Harper said: “In the very small number of suspensions applied, the College has worked with parents/carers and relevant external agencies to support the needs of the students as appropriate. Our holistic pastoral care provision promotes a positive learning environment for all of our young people.”