Larne High head voices fears on amalgamation proposal

Larne High School Principal John Armstrong with Head Girl and Head Boy Nicole Laverty and Craig Matheson and Deputies Elaine Dubbelaar and William King. INLT 43-302-PR
Larne High School Principal John Armstrong with Head Girl and Head Boy Nicole Laverty and Craig Matheson and Deputies Elaine Dubbelaar and William King. INLT 43-302-PR

BOTH post-primary schools in Larne have now stated they would prefer to remain as they are.

The potential amalgamation of Larne High School and Larne Grammar School is one option being considered by the North Eastern Education Board.

Last month, we reported that the newly appointed headmaster at the Grammar, Jonathan Wylie, had urged against amalgamation, and last week High School principal John Armstrong revealed that he too would prefer the status quo to be maintained.

In his annual speech at the presentation of awards, Mr Armstrong said that amalgamation would not be “the end of the world as we know it”, as some feared, but he added: “Ninety per cent of the job we do in Larne High School is to build the confidence and raise the self-esteem of young people who were discarded at the age of 11.

“It is for this reason that I want Larne High School to continue as it is.

“I feel we are best placed to ensure that our pupils’ needs are met. I fear for them if an amalgamation takes place.”

The need for schools such as Larne High was underscored for Mr Armstrong in the summer, when he and his wife had their kitchen renewed.

“We chose a local firm who promised me they would organise everything and keep stress to a minimum,” he explained.

“They duly delivered and we finished with a kitchen to be proud of. The point I wish to make is this: the owner of the firm was an ex-pupil of Larne High.

“The joiner, the electrician, the plasterer, the gas man and the kitchen fitter were all ex-pupils of Larne High.

“Each were fine young men who had acquired admirable skills.

“They were not all perfect pupils and one or two had their ‘moments’, but each is now a credit to themselves, their families and Larne High.

“Larne High is not all about academic success: it is about assisting young people to fulfil their potential.

“Many do go on to success in university and college ... but most go on to provide the back bone of this community’s workforce – a fact that sadly too many in this town are quick to forget.”

However, if the schools were to amalgamate, Mr Armstrong said he would accept it, adding: “The governors of Larne High and I are fully committed to doing what is right for all young people in the town and borough.”

The prospect of amalgamation had caused “much consternation”, he said.

“People have been told that this will be the end of the world as we know it; people will lose their jobs; bus loads of pupils will leave the town; we should begin building our ark (mind you, Noah had a form of selection).

“The truth is that there is no moral, educational, social or financial reason why there should not be one school in a town the size of Larne. Why should this be to the detriment of any child?

“Do they not all go to primary school together? Are the skills and strengths of both sets of staff going to suddenly disappear?

“I firmly believe that Mr Wylie of Larne Grammar School is a man of the utmost integrity. He tells me that he stands for academic selection.

“I respect his honesty and forthrightness.

“I have no issue with pupils following courses that best suit their ability and aptitude.

“This can still take place under one roof, with all in the same uniform and no division at the age of 11.

“If the argument for separate schools is to be based on academic selection, then be true to that.

“Everyone in the province knows that grammar schools are accepting pupils who in the old days of the transfer system would be Ds and that many of those pupils would be best placed in schools like Larne High.

“I believe that both schools are doing a tremendous job and both have strong histories and traditions.

“I can respect a campaign to stay separate on those grounds.”

The special guest at the High School awards night was world champion disabled water skier Dr Janet Gray, who has been blind since she was 21.

Mr Armstrong recounted how, after winning three titles, Janet survived a life-threatening water-skiing incident in 2003 and stunned medics by not only making a full recovery but also winning a fourth world championship four years later.

“A remarkable lady, and, in the year of the UK’s outstanding staging of both the Olympics and Paralympics, a very appropriate guest for us tonight,” said the principal.