Is plan 'strategic' at all?
An opportunity to explore cross Border options for schools such as St. Aidan's, Derrylin has been missed in WELB's Area plan which was released this week.
CONTRADICTORY recommendations put forward in WELB's Post Primary Strategic Area Plan have created confusion in the education sector in Fermanagh.
Director of Fermanagh Trust, Lauri McCusker, says a question mark hangs over whether the document, released last Thursday, is "strategic" at all.
According to WELB, the aim of its Area Plan is to make "robust recommendations across sectors taking account of the individual sectoral interests".
But the Post Primary Plan does not contain a single concrete proposal involving a partnership between schools from different sectors or across the border.
In order to commence the Area Planning Process WELB sought representatives from the various education authorities to set up a Working Group.
Their objective was to ensure a network of viable and sustainable schools, within reasonable travelling distance for pupils, capable of effectively delivering the revised curriculum. But they encountered a number of constraints in their their task, including the current school estate, sectoral interests, parental preference and current transport costs or policies to name but a few. Acknowledging that compiling last week's document would have been no easy task, Mr McCusker welcomed the fact that one of the four recommendations put forward for Fermanagh included WELB and CCMS exploring the establishment of a "cross-sectoral federated model to deliver a multi-campus solution for the area by October 2012".
But, he expressed disappointment that this contradicted another recommendation to seek the Department of Education's approval to the Economic Appraisal for Controlled/Voluntary Post Primary Education in Fermanagh.
This appraisal, submitted to the Department of Education in January 2010, recommended the provision of a new replacement school on the site of Portora Royal School for an amalgamation with Collegiate Grammar School.
It also recommends the provision of a new school on the Tempo Road for Devenish College and Lisnaskea High School and the provision for a new replacement Special School, co-located with Devenish College on the Tempo Road, for an amalgamated Erne and Elmbrook Special School.
WELB's Area Plan also proposes the Recommendations laid out by the CCMS' Clogher and Kilmore Diocesan Programme Board should be progressed.
This includes a recommendation to consult on the closure of St Mary's High School, Brollagh, the amalgamation of St Aidan's High School, Derrylin, St Comhghall's College, Lisnaskea and St Eugene's College, Roslea and the establishment of two large single-sex schools in Enniskillen.
"There's a little bit of confusion in terms of the proposals," said Mr McCusker, "One doesn't sit with the other. These guys knew that this was contradictory when they were putting the document together. So it's not really clear what the strategic plan is at this stage -- is it one or the other?"
Fermanagh Trust has been working closely with schools in both the primary and post primary sectors to assist in developing the potential for shared models of education for the future.
One of the most creative to date, is a proposal from St Mary's High School, Brollagh which has expressed a willingness to explore sharing on a cross-border basis. But there was no mention of this in the Strategic Area Plan last week.
"It looks as though St Mary's proposal for cross-border collaboration is not being recommended to go forward," said Mr McCusker, "The proposal in the Area Plan is to continue with the consultation to close the school. While it's not unexpected it will still be a source of frustration for the school, but they are committed to working ahead on their proposal."
Moving forward, WELB is now undertaking a public consultation in partnership with the Department of Education on the Post Primary Area Plan.
This consultation will run from now until October 26, 2012. Online response facilities will be available from September 2012.
Mr McCusker said he was hopeful the Primary School Area Plan, due to be published this September, would be more fruitful.
"There is a question mark over it being strategic and whether it's a consultation at all. I have been told that in other Board areas there was much more clarity in their Area Plans."
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, Phil Flanagan, a member of the Education Committee in Stormont, said the amount of detail in last week's document was "scant".
"There also must be questions asked about how closely WELB and CCMS worked together in drawing up the plan for Co Fermanagh and complied with the Terms of Reference that were outlined by the Department of Education," he said, "There is not one single concrete proposal, which involves a partnership between schools from different sectors and absolutely no consideration is given to the potential for collaboration with schools across the border, which could suit the needs of the community served by some schools, particularly St Mary's High School, Brollagh and St Aidan's High School, Derrylin.
"I would stress that this is only the beginning of the process, and no decisions of any kind have been made at this stage about the future of any school.
"The purpose of this process is to get the views of the local community and to hear what alternative suggestions are out there.
"In that vein, I would encourage local residents, pupils, parents, schools, stakeholders and community groups to actively involve themselves in this consultation process and reflect the views of the wider community in their response."
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 12 Jul 12