Larne High School ‘has a role to play’, says principal

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FALLING birth rates are to blame for the shortfall in pupil numbers at Larne High School, according to its head teacher.

As previously reported in the Times, over 800 local young people are being educated in post-primary schools outside the borough. This revelation comes at a time when the North Eastern Education and Library Board is contemplating merging Larne town’s two post-primary schools.

But Larne High School Principal John Armstrong feels the statistic paints a false picture of the state of post-primary education in the borough.

He said: “The reality is that for many of these 811 pupils who are being educated elsewhere, their closest school may not actually be within the Larne borough. For example, if they live in Carnlough, they may find it easier to travel to a school in Ballymena.

“The only reason that Larne High School currently has 230 empty seats is down to falling birth rates.”

Both Mr Armstrong and his Grammar School counterpart, Jonathan Wylie have both spoken out against the proposed amalgamation of the town’s two post-primary schools, favouring instead the Board’s other option of retaining the status quo.

NEELB has carried out a consultation into their draft plans for the future post-primary across the province, and is currently sifting through 24,000 responses from parents, politicians and educationalists. The final decision, however, will lie with Education Minister John O’Dowd.

Among the responses now being considered are the submissions of local councillors, informed by information and data obtained from the board and by consulting with the principals, governors and parents at the two Larne schools.

Larne Council asked both head teachers for their views on the matter, and while Mr Wylie furnished the local authority with a paper outlining his own opinion, Mr Armstrong declined the invitation and encouraged the council to send individual submissions to the Board, rather than a single corporate response.

He told the Times: “I didn’t think Larne Council should be showing partisanship on this matter as it represents the entire borough, and so I felt it would be more appropriate for councillors to give their views on an individual basis.

“I gave my submission to the Education Board and stated that Larne High School has its role to play in the borough, just as Larne Grammar does. We take young people whose confidence has been shattered at the age of 11 by academic selection, and it is our job to build that confidence again over time.

“Mr Wylie and I share the opinion that the schools should remain separate, and there has always been mutual respect between the two. We have a very good working relationship through the Larne Learning Community, so I feel if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, if amalgamation does happen, we will accept it and work with it to ensure local pupils have the best education possible,” Mr Armstrong concluded.