SOUTH Antrim Alliance MLA David Ford has called on the Minister of Education to become directly involved in the discussion over the future of secondary education in Antrim.
After attending last Tuesday’s public meeting in Antrim Board Centre, David Ford wrote to Education Minister Barry Gardiner MP and said that only the Department of Education could resolve all the issues involved.
David Ford stated: “At present, students, staff and parents of both Massereene College and Parkhall College are being subjected to a period of uncertainty over the future of Massereene and what changes may happen at Parkhall.
“The position was not made any clearer when Board officers told last week’s meeting that they had had discussion with both CCMS, the Catholic schools body, and NICIE, the Council for Integrated Education. However, they stated that only the two controlled Colleges were under consideration at present.
“This is simply not good enough. It is clear that there is a significant and growing demand for Integrated Schools in Antrim, as elsewhere. This is shown by the three Integrated Primary Schools – Maine, Rathenraw and Round Tower – as well as the very high demand for places in Slemish College from children in Antrim.
“In the past, the cross-community work done between Massereene and St Malachy’s met part of this demand. However, I believe that the demand is now for an Integrated School, not just close working between two nearby schools.
“I do not believe that it is realistic to suggest that Parkhall would be viable as an 850 student school if Massereene were to close. Much more likely would be that the demand for places in an Integrated School would leave Parkhall with very similar numbers to the present. An Integrated School would also obviously impact on St Malachy’s.
“Some months ago, I was told that NICIE had suggested that a community audit should be carried out to determine the future provision of secondary education in Antrim Borough. This would have involved all six existing schools and enabled rational planning for the future. Unfortunately, the Department of Education refused to fund such an audit.
“Yet the then Minister told me that she felt there was a need for strategic planning of future school provision. The Board cannot do that on its own. Only the Department can pull together the Board, CCMS and NICIE – possibly even the North-East Institute – to plan for the future of all our young people.
“I believe that it would be totally dishonest for the Department to simply await a Development Proposal from the Board to amalgamate the two controlled Colleges, while ignoring the strong likelihood that NICIE will wish to produce another Proposal to open an Integrated School. We need a plan that takes account of this.
“As I said at last week’s meeting, as a supporter of Integrated Education, I want young people in Antrim Borough to have the chance to attend an integrated Secondary School in the main town. That would best be done by building on the good work done by Massereene and St Malachy’s.
“Unless the Minister takes charge, there could be damaging consequences for present and future students at all of the secondary schools in the Borough. Mr Gardiner must instruct his officials to develop a strategy which deals with all the concerns of parents and staff.”