THE WESTERN EDUCATION BOARD has agreed a development proposal to amalgamate Portora Royal School and the Collegiate Grammar School.
At the monthly education board meeting on Thursday in Omagh members unanimously agreed to back the proposal which would see the creation of a new voluntary co-educated grammar school.
At the meeting deputations from the Collegiate, Portora and Devenish College all spoke on behalf of their schools and pressed their case for the future of education in the county.
The Collegiate deputation, made up of parents, comprised Helen Russell, Ruth Makhlouf, Susan Collis and Neville Hale. The latter two spoke on behalf of the school.
In their strongly worded accounts both questioned the logic of closing a successful school and asked who was responsible for the development plan, asking for the relevant party to come forward. Both Mr Hale and Mrs Collis highlighted in their speeches their belief that the board was not listening to their views and questioned the time frame of any new build.
In closing both made pleas to stop the proposal going forward. “How many children in Fermanagh will be lost if the board does not make good, well thought through decisions?” asked Mrs Collis while Mr Hale stated : “If however, you choose not to listen to the opinions of those that matter and blindly carry on with what we believe is an attack on the controlled sector, we can guarantee you that this course will be fought both legally and politically every step of the way.” The two stated their complete opposition to any amalgamation between Portora and Collegiate, but both gave their backing to a new school for Devenish College.
Next to voice their views were the deputation from Devenish College of Cecil Morton, Carol Woodhouse, Sam Rooney and Willie Magee. First to speak was Mr Magee, who stated it was essential that that WELB and the Department of Education honour their commitment to building a new school for Devenish and stated those at Devenish would not contemplate anything less than approval of their economic appraisal.
Mr Rooney spoke about the long-term inequality in the controlled sector of Fermanagh and stated that “pupils of all-abilities deserve to be valued equally.” He stated Devenish College ‘fully supported’ the development proposals for the amalgamation between Portora and Enniskillen Collegiate, calling on board members to bring forward the proposals.
“Have the courage to do the right thing for the greater good of all the pupils in County Fermanagh.”
The last deputation from Portora Board of Governors was made up of Doreen Frazer, Alastair Keys , Scott Fallis and Gwen McCutcheon and they stressed the benefits of the proposed amalgamation and co-education. Mr Fallis stressed that while both schools had something to lose the benefits from an amalgamation would outweigh any negatives.
“We need to take emotion out of the situation and focus on what is right for our children. The children should be the first priority,” he said.
Mrs McCutcheon stated that retaining the status quo was no longer relevant to the education needs of local children and an amalgamation would ultimately provide ‘world-class secondary education and long term sustainability’.
After the deputations WELB chief executive Barry Mulholland delivered a presentation outlining the history of the amalgamation and consultation process, clarifying issues brought up from the processes.
Board members then took the opportunity to views on the proposals. One of the members who spoke was Fintan Murphy, the principal of Holy Trinity Primary School. He noted there are a lot of anxieties and issues when there is change, but highlighted that people do not have all the answers at such an early stage. From his experience of working at a split site Mr Murphy commented:
“I have no issues with a split site, it is more about management than the students and can be managed effectively.”
As the board were prepared to give their backing for the development proposals there was still time for one Collegiate activist to make her voice heard. Audrey Stewart made one final plea to the board.
“You’re closing a controlled school in order to facilitate the establishment of a voluntary school. You’re putting us out of controlled status and taking away our legal protection of controlled status.”
The appeal, however, fell on deaf ears as the Western Board agreed to back the amalgamation. The proposals will be published within the next two weeks and it is expected the public consultation period will run for two months from that date.
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