Best option for all is three schools sharing one site

FROM Ordinary Protestant

I support the sentiments expressed in the letter ‘Protestant Unionist’ on April 25 and ‘Another Prod’ and wonder how long the Protestant people of Lurgan will continue to support unionist political leaders and councillors who show no regard for, or interest in the educational welfare of a sizeable percentage of our children.

Under the Dickson Plan which was introduced over 40 years ago for the controlled education sector in Lurgan, the more academically gifted 14-year-olds in the junior high school at Toberhewney are offered places in Lurgan College at Lough Road with the remaining 14-year-olds transferring to the senior high school at Kitchen Hill. Over the last number of years as the junior high school numbers declined slightly, Lurgan College continued to fill its spaces by offering places to junior high pupils further down the academic ladder, and consequently the enrolment numbers at the senior high have steadily declined. This steady decline at a school which mainly caters for pupils aged 14-16 years has eventually made the senior high unsustainable in its current form, thus exposing a serious flaw in the Dickson Plan. A flaw which has not, as yet, been taken seriously addressed.

The senior high principal and staff are to be congratulated for their professionalism in maintaining a high standard of teaching and support for our largely forgotten children in spite of the poor resources available to them. However, the staff and pupils have never had a proper school of their own; being made to share accommodation and resources with further education students from the Southern Regional College. Neither have they had proper playing fields and associated facilities like those enjoyed by other schools/colleges in the area.

As expressed in the previous letters to the editor regarding the subject, our leaders have indeed ignored the plight of the senior high children in Lurgan for years, and now seem to be only interested in supporting the grammar school lobby. Surely the children of the senior high deserve equality with all the other children in Lurgan and in order for this to happen, the Dickson Plan in its present form cannot continue, it must change.

Forty years ago when the Dickson Plan was first proposed there was strong opposition to its implementation from the grammar school lobby which had to be faced down by the education authorities at that time.

However, as time passed, the plan became widely accepted and was deemed successful. I suspect that the same thing may have to happen again.

I agree with ‘Justa Prod’ that the best option for the future would be to have the three schools (junior high, the college and the senior high) located beside each other on one site at Toberhewney but I might add that more importantly it would be necessary to appoint a single governing body to control all three schools. In this way resources, including staff and finances, could be shared and utilised in such a way that all the children would be treated fairly and equally.

The other option; the proposal of moving the senior high pupils to a new site in Craigavon is preposterous. Why should any of our children be deprived of an education in their own home town.

Our unionist leaders should remember that the bulk of their support and votes come from the ordinary working class Protestant people, many of whose children presently attend the senior high and indeed some of whom in years gone by attended the senior high as pupils themselves.