The shake-up of post-primary education will see numbers at Coleraine College quadruple in the next few years.
The non-selective school currently has more empty desks than pupils. It can admit 600 pupils, but only about 245 attend. Overall numbers have fallen in each of the last five years.
Now, the Northern Ireland education minister John O’Dowd has approved a series of proposals that will help breath new life into Coleraine College.
The original area plan by the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) proposed the college’s closure. Two grammars – Coleraine Academical Institution and Coleraine High – would then combine to create two new co-educational schools, with one selecting by academic ability and the other non-selective.
This plan was rejected in favour of reducing significantly the number of grammar places in the town and allowing the secondary school to grow again. The NEELB said the level of provision in the two single-sex grammar schools had led to concern over the suitability of an academic pathway for some pupils. With about 1,600 grammar places available this meant many children who received the lowest D grade in the 11-plus were being admitted.
Under the new arrangement, the grammars are both to be shut down with a new selective school opened it their place. It will only be allowed to admit up to 1,100 pupils.
The separate proposal to increase the enrolment at Coleraine College reflects the need to consolidate non-selective 11 to 19 provision for the area. This will ensure that a “sustainable and viable non-academic pathway is available to young people into the future”.
“I have agreed to increase the enrolment at Coleraine College on a phased basis from 2015 up to 900 pupils,” Mr O’Dowd said. “In addition, the board will continue to support the college to raise standards at the school and to ensure the educational needs of the children are met.”