Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Education Area plans

Posted on November 22, 2012 Strategic issues to be considered in relation to the Antrim-Ballymena area plan. In considering the options presented within the Antrim-Ballymena area plan there were a number of strategic issues within the plan which required clarification, it is also clear that the options presented represented a narrow selection of the range of options that could have been considered. Given that the plans as presented represent the infrastructure available to deliver education over the next 20 – 30 years The change in the proposed profile of Parkhall students will require a re-profiling of the of the enrolment figures for Parkhall and Antrim Grammar by reducing the number of pupils at Parkhall and increasing the numbers attending Antrim Grammar in the 16-19 age range. In option 2 of the area plan Cullybackey High School becomes an 11-16 co-educational school with 850 pupils, an increase of 150 pupils over its current enrolment 700 pupils drawn from the 11-19 age group. This raises the issues of where the additional pupils are to be drawn from, what the cost implications are of increasing the school size or the increase in travel costs due to taking pupils from a larger catchment area. The proposals in the area plan options presented are contrary to the widely accepted view that educating children together is the best model to address sectarianism. The absence of such an option severely limits the public discussion on the area plan process. In this context an option which created a partnership between Antrim Grammar, Parkhall and St Benedicts would have been worthy of inclusion. The merger of Ballymena Academy with Cambridge House Grammar school will create an all ability comprehensive school albeit with the ability to self-select the pupils in attendance. Again this raises the question of why this particular merger is presented in isolation from the range of alternative options available. What are the long term strategic benefits to society of considering a merger between St Louis Grammar and Ballymena Academy or a merger between Cambridge House and Slemish College? Why were such options not placed before the community to discuss? Given the reduction in pupil number in any merged Ballymena Academy/Cambridge House model it is likely that such a reduction would be achieved by restricting intake numbers through the selection process. Should any merger not take place a reduction in Grammar school numbers by restricting the numbers of pupils which could be taken with lower grades would quite possibly negatively impact upon the intake of one or other of the Grammar Schools unequally. Such a decision would result in a further change in education provision in the near future in an unplanned, unstructured manner. The need to ensure clarity and focus around the delivery of the 16-19 entitlement in relation to subject areas is not best served by trying to present most schools as 11 – 19 schools. There has been no consideration in these proposals for the need to focus 16-19 provision on a limited number of sites. The area plan also fails to adequately outline the integration of the NRC into much of the current 16-19 provision. In summary the proposals presented in the area plan represent the wishes of a few schools as opposed to a structured rational assessment of all of the potential options for the delivery of education in the Antrim Ballymena area in the future. A wider discussion, focussing upon delivery as well as infrastructure is still required to ensure that all of the best options have been considered.

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