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Minister doles out homework on the post-primary schools shake-up


05/03/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

Plans to merge grammar, non-grammar and even primary pupils are to be brought forward early next year, the education minister has said.

Caitriona Ruane yesterday unveiled some detail about 'area-based planning', which could see schools from different sectors coming together under one roof.

These area plans are essential if the minister's vision of a post-primary education system operating without academic selection is to succeed.

The government says retaining parallel school sectors - Catholic maintained, controlled, Irish-medium and integrated - is no longer sustainable.

A report by former Queen's University Belfast head George Bain, published in December 2006, said greater emphasis should be placed on projects that are "area-based" rather than concentrated within a single sector.

Five new groups - representative of the areas served by the existing education boards - will bring forward proposals on how they believe schools should be reorganised locally.

They will also consider how to strategically plan the schools estate, reduce empty desks and promote sharing and collaboration between sectors.

Sub-groups could be formed to allow neighbouring schools to bring forward their own proposals. Ms Ruane says she will not be bound by artificial borders.

It is expected the area groups will decide where new schools should be located and how they can meet government demands to provide access to greater subject choice. They will begin by only looking at post-primary schools.

A full area-based plan that considers primary education is expected next year.

The bodies will bring forward proposals to an independently chaired central group.

It will include one senior figure from each of the education boards, the Catholic sector, grammar schools and the integrated and Irish-medium sectors.

It will also have input from trade unions, the inspectorate, the Department for Employment and Learning and "an educational expert from the south".

Concern has been expressed, however, at the absence of Protestant Church representatives - known as transferrors.

Gradually from the 1920s until the 1960s almost all schools owned by Protestant Churches were transferred to the government, although transferors still contribute their views on the ethos and vision for schools. Transferor representatives on education boards could still be selected to join the new bodies.

Ms Ruane said her proposals aimed to give pupils more choice, opportunities and flexibility.

"I also expect these plans to be a major step in delivering a modern education service for all young people now and in the decades to come, reversing the tale of educational underachievement which is the reality for many passing through our current system," she said.



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