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Is this for real? Minister ‘no plans’ for new-build at Markethill High

A new-build or Sixth Form accommodation at Markethill High School is not on the horizon – despite recent record-breaking exam results.

Other projects which are currently ongoing are to be given priority, with no plans for further investment in the schools estate at this time.

It will be a bitter pill to swallow for campaigners and a local community which has rallied in support of enhanced accommodation.

Armagh I – which fully supports and backs calls for facilities befitting one of Northern Ireland’s leading non-selective schools – raised the issue with the Department of Education this week.

We stand behind staff, parents and pupils, past and present, in their active campaign and believe that the school deserves the accommodation to allow it to grow and provide academic tuition par excellence post-GCSE.

This week – for the first time in its proud history – the enrolment figures will top 500. With 116 pupils lucky enough to take the first steps along their post-primary educational path at Markethill High, the enrolment now stands at 515 pupils.

The reality is that that new intake could continue their academic studies beyond GCSE and into A Level at Markethill if funding was committed NOW and a firm resolve given to provide the Sixth Form accommodation required.

To that end, we contacted the Department of Education.

We asked where Markethill High stood in Education Minister Peter Weir’s future plans – in light of its continued and growing success and pointed out the record numbers starting for the new term this week and asked if Mr Weir will be considering a new-build school down the line.

We did so after reporting on Thursday that the GCSE performance at Markethill High saw a 90% pass rate for five grades or more – up 13% on the previous year and the highest in the school’s history.

But the response did not bring anything to smile about.

The Department of Education said it did not maintain a prioritised list of schools in need of a new-build.

A spokeswoman said that, when a major capital announcement is being planned, the education managing authorities are asked to provide a list of the schools which they consider “most in need of a new-build at that time”.

And she told Armagh I: “There are currently no plans for a further announcement given the substantive programme of major capital investment projects already underway.

“Should there be a further announcement for either the major capital or school enhancement programmes then the Education Authority will provide the Department of Education with a prioritised list of projects for consideration.”

The news will not sit well with campaigners.

But it will not lessen their resolve to maintain the pressure on the powers-that-be and, in that, we continue to stand firmly behind them.

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