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Catholic schools out of Dickson


02/12/2008  ::  Northern Ireland  ::  The Irish News

Catholic schools are to withdraw from an education system that allows children into grammars without taking the 11-plus.

All of the sector’s Dickson Plan schools are to be merged in a major shake-up.

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

Extensive consultation was carried out from April to June on options for the future of post-primary education in Lurgan and Lismore.

A project board comprising diocesan and Mercy Order trustees considered the outcome of this consultation and opted to develop two all-ability, co-educational schools, one on the Lismore Comprehensive site and one at St Michael’s Grammar.

The Lurgan merger marks withdrawal of Catholic schools from the 45-year-old alternative to the 11-plus, named after the late educationalist Jack Dickson.

He believed delaying selection until 14 could be fairer to children, easier for teachers and make for more mature decisions about the best type of school for each child.

The Dickson Plan transformed education in north Armagh in the late 1960s and came amid a shift towards comprehensive education in Britain and the building of the new city of Craigavon.

There are six junior high schools (for ages 11-14) – Clounagh, Tandragee, Killicomaine, Lurgan, St Mary’s Girls’ and St Paul’s.

Pupils can then transfer to one of three grammars – Portadown College, Lurgan College or St Michael’s – or to the non-grammar Craigavon senior high.

The original intention was that more Catholic schools would be involved as the system grew with the city – but neither the city or system expanded.

Two Catholic schools that should have been involved in delayed selection arrangements, Lismore and Drumcree, became comprehensive schools.

The proposal for two new all-abilities schools must now be met by ministerial approval but is likely to win favour because it ticks many boxes.

It would remove empty desks, end academic selection, increase the number of available subjects and meet area-based planning requirements.

However, if it does proceed it will strike a blow for the Dickson Plan as it would leave only non-Catholic schools in the system.

More recently it was touted as a more widespread alternative to the 11-plus.

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


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