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Merger to see end of Dickson alternative


17/06/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

Catholic schools are poised to end their participation in the only education system that lets children into grammars without taking the 11-plus.

All of the sector's Dickson Plan schools are to be merged.

This withdrawal from the 45-year-old alternative to the 11-plus is being viewed as the Catholic sector again leading the way in developing new education models.

It has already won praise for advancing radical local mergers long before education minister Caitriona Ruane brought forward her own proposals on area-based planning.

Under the latest plan, it is envisaged that three Catholic post-primary schools in Lurgan, Co Armagh, will come together.

St Michael's Grammar, St Paul's Junior High and St Mary's Girls' are part of the two-tier Dickson Plan in which pupils do not sit the 11-plus but can apply at 14 to transfer to grammar school.

The Irish News revealed plans for a merger of these schools three years ago but was later told by senior Church officials that "everything is on the table".

However, it has emerged that this plan was taken forward.

Minutes of a meeting of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools education provision committee detail plans for a

single "all-ability, coeducational institution". This would result from the amalgamation of the three schools in a single unit for ages 11 to 19 on one site or else separate buildings for those aged 11 to 14 and 14 to 19.

The proposal must get ministerial approval but is likely to win favour because it would remove empty desks, end academic selection, increase the number of available subjects and meet area-based planning requirements.

If it does proceed, it will deliver a blow to the Dickson Plan as it would leave only non-Catholic schools in the system.

The plan was named after educationalist Jack Dickson, who believed delaying selection until 14 was fairer and made for more mature decisions about the best type of school for each child.

The transitional assembly sub-group on schools admission policy asked that research be commissioned urgently on transfer at 14 through the Dickson Plan.

Professor Tony Gallagher, head of the School of Education at Queen's University, described the Lurgan proposal as "significant".

"There only ever were three schools in the Catholic sector in the delayed-selection arrangements and I would not be surprised if numbers have fallen to the extent that this is no longer sensible," he said.

"More generally, however, it reinforces the commitment of the Catholic sector to a future based on a system of election and choice and away from older systems where decisions were made for pupils and imposed upon them."



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