Friday, 17 October 2014

Coleraine Post-primary Provision - Heir of Uncertainty

Saturday, October 18

Tomorrow some Primary 7 pupils and their parents in the Coleraine catchment area will be taking part in a familiarisation process in advance of the examinations that will impact on their choice of post-primary school for the school year beginning September 2015.

I'm indebted to the Coleraine Times [October 1, 2014] for this press release from the managements of Coleraine Academical Institution, Coleraine College and Coleraine High School:

On Monday, in a joint statement, the three Coleraine schools said: "The Minister's announcement on the future of the Voluntary Grammar and Controlled Post Primary sectors signals the start of an exciting new chapter for education provision in the Coleraine area and one which will provide suitable and sustainable educational pathways for all post-primary pupils in the region.

"We are delighted that the Minister has approved these proposals which had positive support from within the community. While we recognise change of this nature is challenging, we believe this plan presents the best opportunity to deliver a long-term, viable and sustainable Post Primary education system in the Coleraine area".

What a delightful paean of praise. Should parents accept these sentiments at face value? As parents and teachers have been kept so much in the dark it's most unlikely that the community at large will be better informed.

Education minister on right

Task - 15 December 2011

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

'All post-primary pupils in the region'? Unsurprisingly some sectors went and were allowed to go their own way and the North Eastern Education and Library Board was left to cobble together an arrangement for the three schools already mentioned [CAI, CC and CHS]. Those who were paying some attention to the small print noted that in the early consultation phase the 414 responses from CHS parents were only initially counted as one and the responses from the opted-out integrated sector dominated the analysis. The 414 responses were later sort of slipped into the mix - 47 became 447 - but the calculations were left unchanged. Should this not have been picked up and resolved by NEELB members?

The following observation in the same Coleraine Times article knocks some of the shine off the glowing review at the top of the blog:

The schools will now begin the significant work of preparing for the implementation of the decision, a process which will focus on the needs of current pupils in the schools as well as those who will attend them in future years.

In other words, the management of the three schools would appear to have signed off on an almost empty page rather than 'an exciting new chapter'. Have they been fobbed off with the proverbial pig-in-a-poke?

The Ministerial statement issued on Friday, September 24, 2014 appears to have been written by Department officials [pdf file] and sent to the Minister the previous Monday. This statement betrays a certain nervousness:

Presentational/Contentious Issues: It is likely that your decision will attract media coverage.

So why might officials be worried? Could it be to do with the information that has been withheld?

Proposal [i] Amalgamation – facilitated by closure of Coleraine AI and Coleraine HS and the establishment of a new school. ... The DP proposes the enrolment at the new VGS [on the CAI site] to be 1060 by the year 2020.

In theory, the combined Year 8 intake in September 2015 could be slashed from 240 to 150 but, in practice, it's unlikely that the current facilities at CAI could be upgraded to accommodate the girls in such a narrow time-frame; the statement coyly refers to 'a reduction in the numbers'.

Will there be a new build, even a new principal? The Minister's recent response to Claire Sugden MLA appears to offer little more than a fairly basic refurbishment:

To ask the Minister of Education what commitment to funding can he make for a new build following his acceptance of proposals to merge Coleraine High School and Coleraine Academical Institution, whilst increasing enrolment at Coleraine College.

- Hide Answer

On 24 September 2014 I approved the Development Proposals published on 7 May 2014 by North Eastern Education & Library Board (NEELB), to facilitate the amalgamation of Coleraine High School and Coleraine Academical Institution, whilst increasing enrolment at Coleraine College to 900 pupils with effect from 1 September 2015 or as soon as possible thereafter.

My Department will fund the works necessary to allow the amalgamation of Coleraine High School and Coleraine Academical Institution on one site and will give consideration, in conjunction with the school authorities, to the works necessary to facilitate the amalgamation.

However any proposal for a new build for the amalgamated school would be considered along with other projects put forward in advance of any future announcement being made.

I can advise that planning of a programme of minor works for Coleraine Academical Institution is currently underway. Details are as follows: [list]

There's no detail of the major works required or estimate of likely cost.

The DP proposes the enrolment at Coleraine College is increased from an approved enrolment of 600 to 900 with effect from 1 September 2015 or as soon as possible thereafter. The NEELB have also confirmed that the increase at Coleraine College will be on a phased basis, rebalancing the decreased enrolment at the new VGS. The 2013/14 actual enrolment was 244 pupils, significantly less than the approved enrolment.

Will the proposed movement of pupils from fairly successful schools to a school that has struggled whilst under the oversight of the NEELB bolster 'parental confidence in the school’s ability to deliver high quality education' - or will parents look to other post-primary schools to educate their children?