Allister questions new integrated school plan

Alliance party ‘disappointed’ by TUV leader’s attitude

Allister questions new integrated school plan
By Damian Mullan


By Damian Mullan


MLA Jim Allister has questioned the proposed amalgamation of the Coleraine area's three non-selective schools.
The TUV leader suggested parental choice will suffer if Coleraine College and Dunluce School are 'deleted,' leaving a new integrated school as the district's only non-selective option.
Earlier this month the Education Authority launched a consultation over the two school's merger with North Coast Integrated College.
Backed by Ulster University, the plans include new-build state-of-the art facilities on its Coleraine campus.
Documents accompanying the consultation point out that, currently, all three existing schools have a total of just 1,042 pupils.
The authors argue 'a one-school solution' will benefit from the pooled strengths of all three schools, plus the university's resources.
Last Tuesday at Stormont, however, Mr Allister suggested parental choice, enshrined in NI law, would be stifled if the merger went ahead as planned.
He asked Education Minister Michelle McIlveen how she views 'the Education Authority's proposal to expunge such choice in the Coleraine district by amalgamating into an integrated school the very successful Coleraine High School (sic), Dunluce School and North Coast Integrated College, thus leaving the area with no other post-primary, non-selective school for parents to choose.'

The minister insisted her department would not be involved in the merger until a formal Development Proposal was published. She suggested Mr Allister take his concerns to the EA.
In response, he said: “The situation that we have, therefore, is that there already is an integrated college and now the EA wants to delete all other schools and have only a new integrated college. How does that fit with parental choice?” he asked.
According to the EA's consultation documents, there are only 77 Catholic pupils spread across all three existing schools – representing 7.4 per cent of total enrolment.
Protestants make up 68 per cent while pupils from other backgrounds make up 24 per cent.
The EA believes locating the new school at a neutral venue can help achieve a religious balance much closer to the more even community split seen across Causeway Coast and Glens.
“It is clear the new school will achieve a reasonable balance if the site for the school is accessible by both of the main traditions,” it states.
The document adds: “(The merger) will provide a more sustainable school and will allow scope for increased parental preference, community integration in providing for a reasonable balance of pupils from Catholic and Protestant faiths, children from other faiths, cultures and communities, with a broader curriculum offer and a unique partnership with Ulster University."
Among the merger plan's backers is the Alliance Party's Chris McCaw.
The Causeway Coast and Glens councillor described Mr Allister's exchange with the minister as 'disappointing.'
He added: “Mr Allister's issue regarding parental choice does not seem to be with the fact that there would potentially only be one post-primary, non-selective school in the area.
“His issue appears to be with the fact that a proposed school would be integrated.
“I am sure the vast majority of parents in the local area would welcome the chance to send their children to an integrated school or at the very least would have no issue with it.
“We must deliver a system which celebrates who and what we are, no matter our culture, religion, socio-economic background and abilities.”

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