Decision to close Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High School ‘bitter blow to educationally vulnerable’, says UUP leader

The Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High School (CSHS) is to close in spite of a long-running campaign to keep it open.

he Department of Education’s permanent secretary Dr Mark Browne approved a plan by the Education Authority (EA) for the school to operate in Portadown only, meaning the Lurgan campus will stop operating in September 2023. 

Currently, the school’s approximate 650 pupils are split between two campuses in Portadown and Lurgan, with the larger Portadown site having the majority of pupils at around 450. 

In 2016, the EA published a critical review of the Lurgan site, stating the safety of pupils was a risk due to the deteriorating state of the school building.

It added that the smaller campus is “no longer fit for purpose”, struggles to provide an “appropriate curriculum experience” for its pupils, and pointed out that students had to walk a mile through the town in their PE kits to use other facilities as there were no outdoor PE facilities, a process that was leaving pupils “frightened and vulnerable”.

The school also had an ongoing budget deficit of over £2m in 2020. 

Ulster Unionist representatives in the Lurgan area have voiced strong opposition to the decision. 

Party leader Doug Beattie said: “Over a protracted period the Lurgan community has fought to find a solution to the threatened closure of the Lurgan Campus of the Craigavon Senior High School, that kept the children in Lurgan and maintained a clear educational pathway.

“Unfortunately, against the wishes of the community, academics, local councillors and the Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council’s own Community Plan, the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Education has decided that he would rather bus the children from Lurgan to Portadown than find a Lurgan solution.

“This will be a bitter blow to some of the most educationally vulnerable in Lurgan and shows a real lack of vision on the part of the Education Department. This is compounded by the very fact that when we did have an Executive, a Minster for Education refused to make a decision on this development proposal although pressed on it multiple times.

“The reality is that the children of Lurgan have been failed over many years by the Education authority and when there was an opportunity to put education first, they decided to take the route of least resistance ignoring all other options.

Lurgan UUP councillor Louise McKinstry added: “I am shocked and saddened at this decision. Successive education ministers have failed the children of Lurgan in the controlled sector by not making a decision earlier when they had many opportunities to do so, and they cannot run for cover now.

“A consultation run by the Education Authority saw the proposed closure of the Lurgan Campus overwhelmingly rejected and yet we are now expected to accept the decision of an unelected civil servant to close the educational pathway for non-selected controlled pupils in a town the size of Lurgan. This is not acceptable and the children of Lurgan deserve better than this.”

Several schools in Craigavon area follow the Dickson plan, which selects pupils for grammar school at age 14 instead of 11. Children attend junior high schools for three years before transferring to grammar schools or senior high schools, such as CSHS.

Back in 2019, a group which represents some parents and the school, Education Equality for Lurgan, accused the EA of a “box ticking exercise” and said under the plans pupils would be left with no option to attend a controlled school in the town.

“The outcome has been stacked against Lurgan children,” they said.

“What we need in Lurgan is fresh ideas that are going to deliver for our children, not more of the same failure only miles further from home.”

The EA tried to close the smaller site in 2019 and again this year, but on both occasions, consultations showed a majority of respondents – including Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council – were against the plan.

In 2021, an independent review commissioned by the council’s cross-party education group said the closure of the Lurgan campus “would likely exacerbate socio-economic deprivation in the area”.

It also stated that pupils should have the option to stay in a non-selective school in Lurgan after age 14 rather than have to travel five miles to Portadown.

As a result, it recommended that Lurgan Junior High School – which pupils currently leave at age 14 – should become a school for pupils up to the age of 16.

The EA has further said they will seek to build a new Craigavon Senior High School “on a location to be determined”, but no further clarification around funding or departmental approval has been provided. 

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