Call for more time to digest schools shake-up


Northern Ireland's education minister must extend the consultation time available on plans to shake-up secondary schools, his political rivals are urging.

Numerous post-primary schools across the North are facing closure or amalgamation through the massive area-based planning exercise.

Crippling budget cuts and ever-decreasing pupil numbers means action is being taken to reduce the number of schools across.

Area-based planning will develop a network of viable and sustainable schools capable of delivering effectively the revised curriculum and offer pupils a wide subject choice.

Draft post-primary plans are now out for public consultation. This 16-week consultation is almost twice as long as what is considered good practice, although the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Education Committee is now pushing for an extension.

Committee members say they are receiving feedback from many schools, parents and concerned organisations that the consultation time is too short.

They further claim that the process is too complicated and that plans are not consistent across different sectors and Education and Library Board areas.

The committee last week requested the presence of more than 50 schools at a special gathering to discuss the overhaul. Just eight schools, however, sent a representative.

Committee chairman Mervyn Storey, of the Democratic Unionist Party, said the area planning process is an extremely important issue and there is no room for ambiguity.

He said: “As a committee we are deeply concerned that the criteria used to measure performance and viability should be fair and understandable. There are many performance indicators for schools – not just exam results – which need to be taken into consideration. The viability audits appear to be based on a limited range of information, which is not detailed enough to base and inform changes to our schools.”

The committee is now asking that education minister John O’Dowd extends the consultation period to “ensure robust and appropriate consideration is given for such an important issue”.


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