Board rules out school merger in Larne area

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EDUCATION chiefs have opted for the status quo in post-primary education provision in Larne.

The North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) revealed last week that a majority of respondents to a public consultation said they wanted Larne Grammar School and Larne High School to remain as separate entities.

The board had floated the possibility of amalgamating the schools on one site, but respondents for both claimed it would never work and expressed fears for future academic and vocational provision in the town.

Among the 981 responses sent to County Hall, it was stated that an amalgamated Larne school would struggle to attract the 1,200 pupils needed, particularly as parents exercising choice could opt for grammar schools in Carrickfergus, Ballyclare, Antrim and Ballymena. The board’s remit under area planning (to address the issue of surplus capacity in both schools) could therefore not be accomplished.

It was also pointed out that neither the grammar nor high school campus is equipped to accommodate a larger school.

Summarising the responses, NEELB revealed that it was told: “The adoption of the proposal to create one school in Larne has the potential to have serious negative consequences, not only for the young people of the town but also for the wider community.

“Parental choice and educational standards would be adversely affected if there was no grammar school in the town.”

Most respondents also made the case that “some pupils will benefit from rigorous academic teaching and some from more vocational teaching” and it was “much better for teachers to specialise in one of these sectors so that all pupils’ needs can be met”.

A single school would not help any of the children because educational provision would be “watered down”, prompting concerns among almost all respondents that amalgamation would impact on educational standards.

Among other comments, the board was told that: “Traditionally, the two secondary schools in Larne have been in conflict for years.” This despite praise for educational collaboration between the two. NEELB reported: “The majority expressed the opinion that joining the two schools would not solve this problem: it would create even more conflict.

“The two schools both have a community and sense of individuality that would be destroyed in an amalgamation.”

The board indicated that 58 per cent of responses were submitted by pupils. A total of 978 responses was submitted online, with one other being a hard copy of the online survey and the remaining two were letters.

A board spokesperson said: “The board values the level of responses made in relation to the draft area plans, which along with the terms-of-reference for area-based planning, helped shape the proposals.

“The extensive work carried out by the board and schools has been acknowledged by the minister. An action plan will now be prepared to take forward to progress consultation on those proposals which involve potential changes to current school provision.”
All information relating to the post-primary area plans is available on the board’s web site www.neelb.org.uk

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