Minister demands a timeframe for end to ‘education inequality’ in Dickson Plan area


Northern Ireland education chiefs who abandoned plans to create all-ability colleges are now tasking an independent panel to shake-up secondary schools.

The Southern Education and Library Board says it is no longer pursuing a proposal to merge grammar and non-grammar schools involved in the Dickson Plan.

The Dickson Plan is a “two-tier” system in which pupils transfer to secondary education at age 14 instead of 11.

Operating in the Craigavon area of Co Armagh since the 1960s, it offers six “junior high” schools (for ages 11 to 14).

At 14, pupils then transfer to one of three grammars or two secondary schools.

However, the North’s education minister John O’Dowd says the continuation of the Dickson Plan means all pupils do not have access to equitable educational provision.

He says he is deeply concerned that the Southern Education and Library Board  has failed to come forward with a plan to resolve this.

The board voted last summer to merge the grammar and high schools to create new all-ability colleges.

Parents and politicians fought these plans saying they would dismantle the grammar school system in the area.

Now, the board plans to appoint independent experts to find an alternative solution.

Mr O’Dowd says the Southern Education and Library Board has a legal duty to act to remove barriers to the provision of its services on the basis of equality.

“It is obvious that the current structures being provided are failing too many young people in the Dickson Plan area,” he said.

“I will be seeking robust assurances aligned to a timeframe from the board as to how they intend to eradicate education inequality for the controlled sector in the Dickson Plan area.”

Three Catholic schools in Lurgan, Co Armagh, are planning to withdraw from the Dickson Plan later this year.

St Michael’s Grammar School, and two junior highs St Mary’s and St Paul’s, will merge into a single, non-selective voluntary grammar school.


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