Time for decisive action on the plight of town’s senior high

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It is clear that many in Lurgan and the wider area - predominately Protestants - cherish and support the Dickson Plan System of Education. Why wouldn’t they?

The plan means that up to 60% of 14 year old students will be given the opportunity to have a Grammar School Education. Not because they reached a particular degree of academic attainment but in some cases because the Colleges simply siphon off what is required to fill their enrolment figure.

Yet, those who fail to cross the line to be selected for a grammar school education - particularity in the Lurgan area - are failed by the serious lack of alternative provision at secondary level.

Yet to argue that the Dickson Plan does not support all students in the controlled sector is, to many, an attack on the Dickson Plan.

That’s based on majority rule; why would the 60% who leave Lurgan Junior High School and are well catered for at Lurgan College be worried about the 40% who are not.

Not everyone can be high achievers at school, I was not. I left school at 16 with no academic qualifications having spent my last two years at Craigavon Senior High School, which, at that time was formally known as Portadown Technical College. In fact in the many years that have passed nothing has changed, and lack of facilities and significant underachievement in the Craigavon area continues to this very day.

I remember being disengaged from education, I found that my strengths - which were not academic - were not identified and never allowed to flourish.

Any decision to bus the pupils from the Lurgan Campus of the Craigavon Senior High School to Portadown risks repeating exactly what happened to me in my final years in education.

It is a quick fix solution that releases funds to support the 60% while the 40% - the majority of the educationally vulnerable and disaffected - are quietly pushed into the margins.

Craigavon Senior High School has exceptional teachers and support staff but yet another change in its principal in less than a year is destabilising, demoralising and points to the fact that something needs fixed.

It is time the Education Authority really looked towards a positive vision for education in the Lurgan area while stabilising the Portadown Campus.

It is time we looked at supporting all children in the controlled sector with a vision and concern for children of all abilities.

We can look towards the Maintained sector to see what funding was made available to them while at the same time create a workable system within the Dickson Plan for those in the controlled sector with a vision for the future.

This vision must be bold and innovative to allow funds to be released to our grammar sector in the form of Lurgan and Portadown Colleges while at the same time create equality of education for the 40% who will not be selected to go to the College in Lurgan and beyond.

If we do not take decisive action now, then we will continue to talk about under achievement in Protestant boys and girls in the Dickson Plan area.

It is time our educators and civic society stood together; to shy away from the rhetoric of division and create an educational vision for the future that threatens no one but supports everyone in their own town.