Northern Ireland’s schools must be above politics, the SDLP’s education spokesman has warned the Department of Education.
Sean Rogers’ comments come after the Belfast Telegraph exclusively revealed that the department is currently in the process of appointing two high-profile Sinn Fein members to the board of governors of one of the province’s top grammar schools.
The department wants to install one of Martin McGuinness’ special advisers, Paul Kavanagh, and Sinn Fein veteran Mary Nelis, who is an outspoken critic of academic selection, to the board of governors of Lumen Christi College in Londonderry.
As the department is controlled by Sinn Fein Minister John O’Dowd — also a fierce opponent of academic selection — the appointments have raised eyebrows.
Lumen Christi in Londonderry is one of Northern Ireland’s top performing schools at both GCSE and A-Level.
It was one of the first schools to back the new transfer tests and, four years on, continues to defy Catholic bishops over the use of academic selection.
A former school principal, Mr Rogers said: “Our schools should be, and must be at all times, above politics.
“Schools and parents are rightly asking what is the real motivation behind this political appointment ... it certainly begs the question — is the minister meddling?”
The South Down MLA said that schools and parents are right to be concerned at what appears to be the politicisation of board of governor appointments in the absence of meaningful consultation with schools.
“Political appointments ... with no apparent consideration as to the needs and best interest of the individual school, is not conducive to achieving the highest level of success,” he said.
Meanwhile, TUV spokesman David Vance has accused Sinn Fein of seeking the “destruction of grammar schools”.
He also attacked plans to appoint Paul Kavanagh — a convicted triple killer — as a governor.
“This is the face of the shiny new Northern Ireland. Convicted killers like Kavanagh lifted up into high office, their victims callously forgotten,” he said.