New integrated school planned for Mid Down

New integrated school planned for Mid Down

5 December 2018

MID Down could have a new integrated post-primary school by 2021, it has been revealed.

Parental demand for such a school is growing with a public meeting in Crossgar told last week that a potential area for a new-build project has been identified.

Two options have been drawn up to move the project forward, one of which is asking current controlled schools in the area if they would consider transforming to fully fledged integrated status.

If this option proves unsuccessful, attention will focus on a new-build project to help meet what the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICE) has described as “increased parental demand” for integrated post-primary provision in Mid Down.

There is also mounting concern that not all pupils who attend integrated primary schools in the area can secure an integrated post primary place, which is the preferred choice for many parents who have to enrol their children in mainstream schools.

It was confirmed at the meeting that education chiefs have been asked to carry out a detailed search of the Mid Down area for a potential new build location, but no specific site has yet been earmarked.

It is hoped that a steering committee comprising local parents can be established before Christmas to help spearhead the drive for new post-primary integrated provision, with existing controlled schools being asked in the New Year if they would be interested in transforming to integrated status.

Lorna McAlpine, NICIE senior development officer, who chaired last week’s public meeting which was also addressed by Lagan College principal Amanda McNamee and local man Ted Ellison — a governor at an integrated primary school — said Mid Down could potentially have a new school in 2021.

She said that given the fact many parents had problems securing an integrated post-primary place for their children, in tandem with the current strength of existing primary provision in the integrated sector, many have expressed a desire for their children to continue their integrated education at secondary level.

Parents were told that the success of integrated schools like Lagan College was resulting in several hundred pupils who would like to be educated there having to seek alternative provision in mainstream schools.

“Existing parental demand cannot be met and given the current strength of integrated primary school provision in the area, the move to post-primary provision is a natural progression,” Mrs McAlpine told the public meeting. “Our aim would be to help fill the void that currently exists.”

She said meeting was organised to look at the possibility of a new post primary school in Mid Down and how to develop integrated education in the area.

“We have a vision which talks about bringing children together. Children who are educated together create friendships which last for the rest of their lives,” she continued.

“We believe that there are more opportunities for children in integrated education which can provide them with a broader experience; a safe, neutral environment where people can mix with each other and help us create a genuine, shared future for everyone.”

Mrs McAlpine explained the aim locally is to create the new steering group to take the post-primary project forward and write to existing controlled schools to test if they would be interested in transforming to integrated status.

She said this would be a “fundamental change which may be difficult for some”, confirming that if 

existing schools preferred to maintain the collective status quo, the Mid Down steering group would adopt a greenfield approach for a new school.

“NICIE will be delighted to support parents in favour of new integrated post-primary provision as in all consciousness we cannot allow the current situation to continue as it is. You have around 280 children not being able to secure a post-primary place in the integrated sector and I think there is something we can do to redress the imbalance,” she said.

“We want to provide provide a much better future for post primary integrated education in the Mid Down area and hope to form a new steering group before Christmas and then contact controlled schools in the New Year to test if they wish to transform to integrated status.

“I have asked the Department of Education if would it start a site search for me and I have an idea where a new school could be located but not a specific site. We currently have an integrated school at Blackwater in Downpatrick which I believe has never had the chance to reach its full potential as its site is quite restricted.”

Mrs McAlpine added: “I am trying to get something that will enable us, if the children would like to transfer, to get everybody on the same site and we would hope to have new post-primary integrated provision in the Mid Down area by 2021, either in an existing school or via a new-build project.”