The Education Authority has said a new-build school for Markethill High remains a priority – despite comments in the Assembly last week by Education Minister John O’Dowd.
The Authority makes its recommendations to the Department of Education but the ultimate decision rests with the Minister.
As Armagh I reported last week, Minister O’Dowd – responding to questions in the Assembly – accepted the County Armagh school had “excellent exam results”.
But he said Markethill and the Armagh city area required an area planning solution to “ensure that we know exactly the make-up of the school estate from this point forward”.
He added: “That will allow me, as Minister, or my successors, to invest in the Armagh and Markethill area. At the moment, we do not have an area plan for the secondary/post-primary sector, and I encourage everyone involved to come to a conclusion on the discussions around that.”
Following on from our story, an Education Authority spokesman confirmed its own official position.
The statement said: “Markethill High School is included on the list of capital building priorities submitted to the Department of Education by the Education Authority. This remains subject to the resolution of area planning issues and the availability of capital funding.”
Back in October MLA Sandra Overend had written to the Education Authority about the issue.
In a response to her letter, Gregory Butler, the Regional Managing Director of the Southern Eastern and Southern Regions, confirmed to Ms Overend that Markethill High School is included on the list of capital building priorities submitted to the Department of Education by the Education Authority.
Markethill High Principal, Mr James Maxwell, the Board of Governors, staff, pupils and the wider community, have welcomed the news but said the new-build must come soon.
They say the school will not accept pupils being at a disadvantage pastorally or educationally.
Mr Maxwell said: “With excellent academic achievements, our highest enrolment figure ever, being in a strong financial position and capable of meeting the Bain threshold of 100 pupils for Sixth Form, the school remains strong and resolute in its campaign to secure a new build and Sixth Form.
“Our pupils deserve a new build. We have 496 pupils. St Joseph’s Crossmaglen, which is getting a new build, has 481 pupils at ages 11-16 as of the June 2015 census, so it has less pupils at 11-16 than Markethill High School.
“We congratulate them in their new build but question why the Education Minister consistently says no to Markethill High School in spite of requests for temporary variance.
“We are of course pleased to learn that Markethill High School is now on the priority list for a new-build school – but that new-build must come soon.
“We understand this remains subject to the resolution of area planning issues and the availability of capital funding as outlined by Mr Butler.
“In September 2012, 4,500 people put their name to a campaign calling for a new build and Sixth Form at Markethill High. We have been actively campaigning for the last three years yet we are still waiting on decisions.
“Our school ticks all the boxes. We are sustainable, we achieve some of the strongest exam results in the country and we are in a sound financial position. Would we meet the Bain threshold of 100 pupils in Sixth Form? Absolutely.”
The number of pupils leaving Markethill High School with five or more GCSEs, including English and Maths, has hit a new record at 68 per cent –a result which should place Markethill High School once again in the top three non-selective Controlled Schools in Northern Ireland. Well over 80 per cent of pupils achieve five or more GCSEs.
Mr Maxwell asked: “Why do our pupils have to get 13 or 14 points to get any sort of robust and broad A-Level provision when pupils in other Controlled non-selective schools have easy access to strong provision at the same location with only eight points?
“The inconsistencies and disadvantage cannot go on and the Education Authority cannot shift the goalposts. Markethill High School meets the sustainability agenda and meets the Bain threshold for sixth form admissions.”
Mr Maxwell said he understands there are moves to consult on post-16 provision in the Armagh City and District Area.
He said: “Markethill High School, quite simply, as the largest Controlled feeder school, must be at the centre of those discussions. Nothing else will be acceptable.
“And to the Education Authority I say this – Controlled post-16 provision, for the Controlled sector which has been so sadly lacking for decades now, must remain within the Controlled Sector.”
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