Published Thursday, 30 August 2012
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Education shake up
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Plans have been laid out by the Department of Education to streamline the system and deal with 85,000 empty classroom seats, with many schools facing closure or amalgamation.
"This is not being driven by finance," said Education Minister John O'Dowd. "It is being driven by a need for a sustainable estate going into the future.
"If I don't deal with it we will have job losses. Our resources will be spread so thinly across an unsustainable schools estate, young people's educational future will suffer."
Armagh is covered by the Southern Education and Library Board.
Each board has been setting out the proposals for its local area and the Royal School Armagh - a voluntary grammar - took part in the appraisal along with City of Armagh High and Markethill High, two controlled post primaries.
Four proposals have now gone out to public consultation.
It's a golden opportunity to produce and provide a network of high quality, all-ability schools
Irish Nation Teachers' Union
They range from amalgamating the City of Armagh and Markethill High with new buildings on the Markethill site, and refurbishing and extending the Royal building - to amalgamating all three and providing a new 11-19, all-ability school on the Royal site for 1,400 pupils.
The principal at Markethill High told UTV it's an uncertain yet exciting time.
James Maxwell said: "The board of governors here broadly welcomes the publication of the proposals, because we see this as an opportunity for our school in particular to express itself to its capacity and also to meet the very clear needs and interests of the pupils in the area."
There are several post primary schools in Armagh's catholic sector.
St Catherine's girls' school will stay, however it is proposed that one of the two boys' post primary schools will close.
Plans are also being sped up for the possible closure of Drumcree College in Portadown, which has just over 200 students.
St Patrick's High in Keady, which is co-educational, will stay - and principal Fr Kevin Donaghy said schools should be retained were at all possible.
"So many communities regard the school as one of its focal points," he explained.
"We can look at ways of sharing resources sharing teachers, finding centres were we can come together and to be a little more imaginative and strategic in seeing how we can increase the range of subjects and courses on offer and opportunities for all young people."
The Irish Nation Teachers' Union represents thousands of teachers in the post primary sector.
Brendan Harron from INTO agrees that rationalisation is inevitable.
He said: "It's a golden opportunity to produce and provide a network of high quality, all-ability schools, which is the stated policy of John O'Dowd, the catholic school authorities, the boards and the unions.
"We want to see them put their money where their mouth are and work with us to provide that network of high quality schools."
The public consultation will finish at the end of October, after that the difficult decisions which may affect children's education for decades to come will eventually have to be taken.