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Clergyman to head radical new school shake-up body


Clergyman to head radical new school shake-up body
07/03/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

One of the most prominent members of the Protestant clergy involved in education will head a group tasked with a radical shake-up of schools.

Education minister Caitriona Ruane revealed that the Rev Robert Herron will be among those responsible for reshaping post-primary structures.

However, Protestant Church leaders last night expressed "deep disquiet" at being largely overlooked in the reform process.

They said they hoped their concerns would be addressed "on grounds of equality and for the enhancement of community confidence".

So-called 'area-based planning', prompted by falling pupil numbers, could see schools from different sectors coming together under one roof.

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.

These five area bodies will make recommendations to a central group, which will be chaired by Adeline Dinsmore, principal of Ashfield Girls' High School in east Belfast.

Rev Herron, who will take charge of the western area group, is a member of the Transferors' Representative Council, which represents the Church of Ireland, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in education.

In addition, he is chairman of the Western Education and Library Board and convener of the Presbyterian Church board of education.

He was approached days before Ms Ruane faced criticism in the assembly for excluding Protestant Church representatives, known as transferors, in her plans.

All main school sectors - Catholic, Irish-medium, in-tegrated, state controlled and grammar - were assured places in the central group.

The lack of a representation for Protestant Churches was due to them no longer having their own distinct education sector.

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.

The full make-up of the five area groups is yet to be finalised. The state controlled sector, which is represented by the five education boards, could yet nominate Protestant clergy members.

The Transferors' Representative Council said it welcomed the appointment of Rev Herron.

A spokesman added that while the council accepted it no longer had ownership of schools, it was still an important educational stakeholder and should, therefore, be represented.

But the three main Protestant Church leaders last night said it appeared they were being excluded from "influential decision forming bodies in the field of education".

The Rev Alan Harper, the Rev John Finlay and the Rev Roy Cooper said they were worried by the "deliberate omission of transferor representatives."

Ms Ruane last night said establishing the bodies was an important stage in improving the education system.



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