Unionists backing Dickson Plan

TWO unionist politicians have come out strongly in support of the Dickson Plan.

“Never in it’s over forty years of history has the Dickson Plan, which is much loved by parents and pupils across Craigavon, been faced with so many dangers and threats,” said UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson, who recently confronted the Sinn Fein Education Minister John O’Dowd on his motives towards the future of the Dickson Plan during an Assembly debate.

Addressing the issue during a debate on the Education Skills Authority (ESA) Mrs Dobson spoke of the importance of the Dickson Plan saying that it has “served the people of Craigavon exceptionally well.”

She highlighted how it has successfully struck a balance between academic and technical ability for the students of Craigavon for over 40 years. She then said that far from calling for an end to the Dickson Plan the Education Minster should be looking at aspects of the plan as a post-primary model to roll out across Northern Ireland.

She said: “As we work towards a single education authority I and many people in the local area will be looking to the Minister for an assurance that his proposals will not weaken the Dickson Plan.”

She claimed she received no response from the Minister, adding: “For the Minister to ignore the views of thousands of local people speaks volumes for his long-term intent.

“Any move against this system from any quarter would lead directly to a deterioration in the education of young people in Craigavon.

“I share the concerns of local school principals and boards of governors regarding the time scale which has been provided to schools to respond to the current Area Plan. To this end, I have indeed submitted a number of written Assembly questions on this issue directly to the Minister.

“I am concerned that the current tight time-scale is not being provided to the local controlled schools on an equal basis to the area planning process conducted by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) in 2010. I have questioned the equality of this issue under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act.

“I share the concern of many on this issue that the current approach by the department is grossly unfair and discriminatory against the schools within the Dickson Plan area and indeed schools across Northern Ireland and will continue to question the Minister and his officials on this matter.”

Speaking in support of the Dickson Plan, DUP MLA Stephen Moutray said: “I have read with interest the articles carried recently in the local press regarding the SELB’s Area Plan and it is clear to see that there is much hysteria around this matter. Parents, businesses, primary and post primary school principals and teachers are very concerned at what is being proposed for the area and the lack of clarity on it.

“In my response to the consultation I along with my DUP colleagues have stated clearly that we want to see the retention of a two-tier system with some form of academic selection at the age of 14. This has worked over the past 40 years and indeed I and my children are all products of this form of education. My response to the matter is why fix what isn’t broke.”

He added: “As an elected representative who has his ear fixed to what is happening in the community I am very clear that the people of Lurgan want to retain what has worked for many years and indeed is envied throughout the rest of the province owing to the top results it yields year on year.”

“To leave Lurgan bereft of a Grammar School would be detrimental to the local economy and would ultimately result in a brain drain from our local area. I therefore am opposed to any amalgamation in Lurgan that would result in the corroding and destruction of our unique form of education.

“I will refute any attempt by the SELB or indeed the Minister and his Department in forcing the people of Lurgan down the route of amalgamation. Whilst I acknowledge the problems that occur in terms of the current school building at Lurgan Senior High School who might I add have been extremely successful in educating our young people.

“I would call on all concerned to work together to preserve and build on the excellent system we currently have within the area.”