Plan to shut Northern Ireland school and bus kids sparks furore
Angry MLAs have hit out at controversial plans to shut a school campus in Lurgan and bus hundreds of the affected children to Portadown daily.
Upper Bann MLAs from both the DUP and UUP spoke out as a consultation exercise about the future of Craigavon Senior High School is due to begin on Monday.
The school has two campuses seven miles apart: one in Portadown, attended by 75% of the pupils, and the other in Lurgan, which provides for the remaining 25%.
Both campuses rely on facilities shared with Southern Regional College (SRC) and almost one-third of teaching classrooms on the Lurgan site are SRC classrooms. A small number of the teaching staff travel between the campuses.
A recent inspection report found that over the past three years the school's performance at Key Stage 4 has declined significantly, while the performance of most of the individual subjects is below the corresponding Northern Ireland average.
Last night DUP MLA Carla Lockhart told the Belfast Telegraph her party would not allow the people of Lurgan to be subjected to the Education Authority's "unacceptable proposal".
"The Education Authority are recommending as their preferred option the closing of the Lurgan campus of the senior high school and bussing the young people to Portadown campus," she said.
"This will ultimately leave Lurgan bereft of a senior high school and relocated to a Portadown campus that is already at capacity.
"We utterly oppose this and see the detrimental effect this could have on children from the Lurgan area." Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie described Craigavon Senior High's Lurgan campus as "not fit for purpose", but said bussing was not the answer.
"The children in Lurgan cannot stay at the Lurgan campus site on Kitchen Hill, as it is simply not fit for purpose, while bussing them to Portadown to a consolidated CSHS would be detrimental to the children and the wider Lurgan community," the MLA said.
Norman Wilkinson of campaign group Education Equality for Lurgan said parents were worried. "They want to bus 200 kids out of south Lurgan to Portadown, taking the heart out of the community," he said.
He said his group had suggested a workable alternative.
"Instead of bussing the kids to Portadown into portable classrooms, they could use the grounds of Lurgan Junior High School (which) could take up to 1,800 children," he said.
"We've been working with the junior high school on plans for an 11-16 school, with selection at 14, but according to the EA this goes against the Dickson Plan."
Mr Beattie backed the alternative idea, saying: "Creating an educational hub in Lurgan on the site of the Lurgan Junior High School through the provisions of 11-16 education would enhance education in the area while at the same time retaining the guidelines of the Dickson Plan with no detrimental effect on post-primary schools and education in the wider Lurgan, Portadown and Tandragee area."
The Education Authority said: "Craigavon Senior High School currently provides vitally important post-primary education services to the Craigavon area and currently operates across two campuses.
"EA is undertaking consultation on how future provision at Craigavon Senior High School will be shaped.
"The purpose of this consultation is to seek the views of those most directly involved at a local level and will begin on Monday, January 14.
"The consultation events will provide an opportunity to explore all of the facts and discuss the issues which will help shape future provision at Craigavon Senior High School."