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Minister insists Dickson Plan education system will not be axed on his watch

The newly-appointed Education Minister has offered assurances that the Dickson Plan will not be axed by any means.

The system, which was established in the Craigavon area and sees children transfer at age 14, only operates in County Armagh.

Among the schools locally under the Dickson Plan arrangement – which has the backing of 80 per cent of parents – are Tandragee Junior High School and Clounagh Junior High.

There have been previous moves to end the system, something which has met with strong community objection.

And on Monday, Education Minister Peter Weir said the Dickson Plan works and he would ensure it is “not removed either directly or undermined through stealth”.

The Minister gave the reassurances during a visit to Birches Primary in Portadown, where he accompanied First Minister Arlene Foster, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the school.

Congratulating the school on its golden anniversary, the First Minister said: “Fifty years ago to this day the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O’Neill, was here to open this school, so I am particularly honoured to be here today as First Minister to celebrate this very special golden anniversary with you.

“Birches Primary School has grown steadily over the years and is a fantastic example of how education, friendship and fun can enrich the lives of pupils who make this school an integral part of the community.

“The school ethos of ‘shaping tomorrow, today’ is at the heart of everything I do and as tomorrow’s leaders, I am determined that every child in Northern Ireland will be given the best possible start in life.

“I commend school Principal Patricia Watson and everyone involved, past and present, for helping to make the school the success that it is today. I wish you well for all of your anniversary celebrations.”

Speaking at the event the Education Minister Peter Weir added: “I am delighted to be at Birches Primary School on this special day celebrating 50 years since the school was first established. Birches Primary School is an excellent school at the heart of the community, that has produced excellent educational delivery for half a century. That has not happened by accident and is testament down the years to the hard work and effort of pupils, parents and staff.

“As the new Education Minister, I am acutely aware of the vast pool of knowledge and experience that exists within schools, which is why I am keen not simply to visit as many schools from different parts of Northern Ireland and different educational sectors, but to listen to those who at the chalk face, or more accurately now, the interactive whiteboard face of education, such as those involved with Birches Primary.

“It is important that lessons are learned to improve our system, but also that we protect what is working within our system.

“During the last mandate there were considerable concerns created by the threat to effectively dismantle the Dickson Plan system. The Dickson Plan has proved very successful in this local area with strong support from the local community.

“I want to assure people locally that I will be offering support and assurance for the continuation of the Dickson Plan system, and will be ushering in a period of educational stability on the issue.

“This is something that works, and so I will ensure that the Dickson Plan is not removed either directly or undermined through stealth, and that any threat is now lifted.”

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