A meeting this week at the Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School heard that the ultimate goal for changes to Fermanagh's post-primary schools is the creation of one large all-ability school serving the controlled sector.
At the information evening on Tuesday evening, the case for change was challenged.
The changes being proposed -- in the Western Education and Library Board's Strategic Area Plan -- are out to consultation and this closes next Friday, October 26.
The plan proposes: * a new replacement school on the Portora site for an amalgamated Collegiate and Portora with an enrolment of 900 pupils.
* a new school on the Tempo Road to replace Devenish College and Lisnaskea High School with an enrolment of 800.
* a new replacement Special school co-located with Devenish College on the Tempo Road site for Willowbridge School.
But those attending the Collegiate meeting were sceptical that funding and negative ministerial approaches to academic selection would mean three new builds would be highly unlikely.
"There is no clarity about the capacity of these proposals to deliver the much-needed capital investment. The rationalisation of the Duke of Westminster School did not secure the new build for Devenish College. Eight years later our community is being asked again to accept yet further rationalisation. The meeting was sceptical that in the current financial climate money would be found to fund effectively the three new builds in these proposals: in addition, given the Minister's negative stance on academic selection the view was expressed from the floor that the ultimate goal is in fact one large all-ability school," said a spokesperson.
What was described as a "sterile emphasis on numbers" was challenged and the need to reduce surplus places in the sector was questioned.
The meeting heard by 2025, there will be 1,848 pupils in the controlled/voluntary sector but in the two schools there will only be 1,700 places. Currently, 1,000 pupils access the Collegiate and Portora while in the new model there will be 100 fewer places, it was suggested. Concern was expressed that "the narrow focus on compliance with the numerical requirements of 24 courses at GCSE and 27 courses at post-16 was being used as a lever to close schools". "The crucial debate around the diversity of curricular pathways required to meet the needs of all young people and of our economy is sidestepped. Concern too was expressed that the work of Fermanagh Learning Community where schools from all sectors work together to develop and extend the curriculum in a meaningful way is ignored in this area plan. Instead there are effectively two separate plans and the opportunity to enhance the quality of provision building on existing strengths on a shared basis is missed," said the spokesperson. Principal Miss Elizabeth Armstrong said that the Collegiate's rejection of this plan and of the process which led to it did not come from a negative resistance to change.
"The Board of Governors of the Collegiate believe that the case for change as identified in this plan and in the Minister of Education's wider policy agenda is seriously flawed and must be challenged for the sake of our current and future generations of young people in Northern Ireland and for the sake of Northern Ireland itself," she said. She went on to emphasise that, in seeking a better way forward, the Collegiate remained committed to maintaining and improving its record of service to the community. She also reaffirmed the school's commitment to working with all the other schools within the controlled/voluntary sector as well as on a cross-sectoral basis in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration to ensure that the post-primary provision in County Fermanagh is the very best it can be. She called on those who have the ultimate responsibility for the policies and processes at local and at Northern Ireland level to create the right climate for a positive, inclusive and measured debate about the future of education. Those who spoke from the floor called on all of the schools in the controlled/voluntary sector to stand together in their rejection of these proposals.
The consultation document on the WELB Fermanagh Area Plan is available at www.puttingpupilsfirst.info. It may be completed on-line or downloaded and returned to WELB Planning and Development Section, 1 Hospital Road, Omagh, BT 79 OAW by Friday, October 26.