Monday, 10 June 2013

Coleraine High School - Sleight of Hand?

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Several curious aspects of the North Eastern Education and Library Board's proposals for post-primary education provision in the Coleraine area have been brought to my attention.

The Coleraine Town Centre Master Plan, prepared in conjunction with Coleraine Borough Council and the Department for Social Development, makes several references to education:

Coleraine has an expanding University of Ulster campus with approximately 5,000 students, a large Further Education College in addition to a range of high quality secondary and grammar schools. ..

The figure ground plan also highlights ‘gaps’ in the urban grain, the most notable being the course of the River  Bann, Anderson Park and playing fields and the site of Coleraine High School along Lodge Road. ..

Should plans to relocate Coleraine High School be realised, the opportunity exists to establish a linear park following the course of the Lodge Burn [not to mention residential development - it's merely illustrated].

There's no mention of such relocation plans in the latest NEELB Coleraine area plan [May 2013] so where did this proposal come from and who agreed it?* Companies and families attracted to Coleraine by the promised grammar school provision may have a change of heart if there's a dramatic cut in the number of grammar school places on offer. One estimate I've seen would cut this provision by NEELB and other providers from about 46%, which is close to the average for similar towns, to 26%. As I understand it, Loreto College is no longer a selective grammar school and the other two single-sex grammar schools, with a current intake of just under 1600 pupils, would be replaced by a co-educational selective grammar school, with just under 1000 pupils. [This new voluntary grammar school on the CAI site has to be 'truly a grammar' ie the 990 figure is based on the current number of grade A and B students whereas Loreto can use the voluntary grammar appellation even though it has moved away from the said 'truly grammar' idea. Where's the logic in all of this irrespective of the merits of the different systems? - added 11 April 2014]


The Minister is commissioning the Education and Library Boards, working in close conjunction with CCMS and engaging extensively with other school sectors, to develop collective strategic plans on an area basis.

"I wanted the planning authorities to set aside individual, sectoral or institutions' needs and focus on how, as a society, we could best provide for the needs of all children and young people in an area." .. Minister, February 26, 2013
Unfortunately the Minister appears to have put out a mixed message about decision making on area plans on that date:

"That depends on the sector.  If you are referring to the controlled sector, I can say that the decisions will rest with the relevant education and library board.  Decisions for the maintained sector will rest with the maintained sector.  Those bodies will have to be included in the discussions on the way forward for the area planning process.  That will be the deciding factor in signing off on area plans."

The current NEELB area plan fails to fulfil the collective strategic task set by the Minister; it merely produces a plan for the two schools it controls viz Coleraine College and Coleraine High School. The Catholic school sector disappeared from the shared process very early on; the integrated school more recently; Coleraine Academical Institution appears to be maintaining an arms-length relationship; and the Northern Regional College appears to have been overlooked. 

Why has the Education minister permitted such a failure to persist? Will he be presented with an area plan which is little more than a series of plans stitched together and which may have been compromised by commitments given to Coleraine Borough Council and/or the Department for Social Development? Why does he support segregation by religious affiliation but oppose segregation by academic ability?

Do the professional interests of any school governors in the development of the Coleraine Town Centre Master Plan conflict with their duties as governors?

Will parental choice come down to little more than what has been concocted by administrators, principals, governors and trustees, well away from public view? Is 'Putting Pupils First' more than just a slogan?

The Board*** would welcome your comment on the following proposal or any alternative proposal:

Coleraine College to be considered for closure.

Coleraine Academical Institution and Coleraine High School will combine to create two separate co-educational schools under the same school names and management types. 

One school will select its pupils by academic ability and will have a maximum enrolment of 990 pupils by the year 2025 and the other school will be non-selective with a maximum enrolment of 1210 pupils by the year 2025, which would include provision for a Learning Support Centre.

The intake for the three current schools is just over 1800 pupils so does the maximum enrolment of 2200 suggest a possible future closure of Dunluce School in Bushmills?

Responses to the truncated area plan are to be submitted to NEELB by September 16. When you take out the time taken up by examinations and the school holidays the time left for collective deliberation amounts to little more than a fortnight in September. Why the rush? Concerns can be raised with local elected representatives.

* I'm told that the relocation plan was mooted early on in the Master Plan process but that the position since then has softened ie the language used in the final report is misleading.

** Ironically, Coleraine High School is the top achieving 11-19 school in Coleraine yet the NEELB seems determined to give it the chop.

*** Board rules out school merger in Larne area and Cambridge House 'saved'. Does this mean that NEELB officials have paid insufficient attention to public opinion and that, in general, controlled schools are not receiving adequate protection from the Minister and the Department?

Added 13 June 2013

Ballee Community High School criticism of NEELB Ballymena Area Plan [pdf file] includes:

The NEELB proposal presented for Consultation does not have the unanimous cross-community or cross-sectoral support preferred.

It has generated much well-founded concern and anxiety amongst Pupils, Parents, School Governors and the wider Ballymena Community and very importantly it does not fully deliver on the Minister of Education’s Terms of Reference for Area Planning or indeed the Department of Education’s Sustainable Schools Policy.

The NEELB proposal largely puts the power of Institutions before Pupils.