I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who responded in any way to the Discussion Paper, ‘Together Towards Tomorrow’, which was published in February of last year.
The Discussion Paper described the Senior Trustees’ vision of a partnership model for the future of the Catholic Post-Primary Schools in Derry. It proposed a phased transition away from the use of academic selection, the possibility of substantive change to the shape of post-16 education, and it commended a move to co-education for all.
The Paper certainly served its purpose of generating discussion and interest in the future of Catholic Education in the Derry City area.
A full copy of the Analysis Report is available on the website of the Derry Diocese: www.derrydiocese.org. The website also contains the full text of my comments on the Analysis.
It was encouraging to find a high level of support for the development of a partnership of ‘distinct but linked’ Catholic post-primary schools in the City. The Discussion Paper has enabled us to develop further the ‘Partnership’ concept, to appreciate any potential negative impact, and to offer a clearer sense of evolution and direction.
I, therefore, propose that the ‘Rathmor Group’ of Post-Primary Principals, in consultation with their Boards of Governors, should, in the coming year, begin to take the ‘Partnership’ idea to the next stage in its evolution.
The issue of academic selection dominated much of the discussion during the consultation period. It was also the main concern of those who chose to respond in writing as individuals to the Discussion Paper. In June 2012, the Bishops of the Northern Dioceses called once more on all involved in Catholic Schools to urgently engage with each other and those in the educational community to begin a phased transition away from academic selection as an admissions criterion.
The Bishops also called on political parties in Northern Ireland to seek urgent agreement on a better system of transfer to post-primary schools. Ultimately, it is for the Board of Governors of a school to determine admissions arrangements for that school within the legal framework set down by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
However, Bishops have a duty to provide leadership for the general regulation and planning of Catholic education in the Diocese and, as Catholic educators, have a particular responsibility to reach out to socially disadvantaged children and young people.
As Diocesan Administrator and Senior Trustee, I, therefore, propose in the coming months to engage directly with Boards of Governors on this matter.
I will seek to agree a method of phased transition away from the use of academic selection which can address as many as possible of the concerns raised during the consultation process.
I shall facilitate discussions about alternative admissions criteria, taking account of the long-standing tradition of the three current grammar schools accepting pupils from a wide catchment area. It shall also be necessary to ensure that young people from the Waterside and rural areas continue to have appropriate access to post-primary education within the ‘city side’.
A considerable degree of interest was expressed in the possibility of substantive change to the shape of post-16 education in Derry.
The consultation confirmed that more needs to be done to ensure increased participation in viable, sustainable, high-quality Catholic post-16 education in the City.
Understandably, the possibility of the establishment of one or two Catholic sixth-form colleges generated a lot of discussion and some misgivings about the perceived negative impact of such an initiative.
I believe that there is merit in exploring this possibility further within the ‘Rathmor Group’ of Principals in consultation with Boards of Governors. I strongly recommend that post-primary schools in the City should carry out an evaluation of the quality and viability of all post-16 provision here in the light of educational outcomes and financial constraints.
I offer the assistance of the Senior Trustees in commissioning more detailed research into a sixth form college(s) for Derry, including support over the coming year for a possible study visit by Principals/Governors to a number of Catholic sixth form colleges in England.
Despite the fact that the majority of post-primary schools in the City are predominantly either all-girls or all-boys schools, there was a clear openness to considering a move towards co-education for all.
I recognise that any move to co-education for all would necessitate careful planning and some re-organisation. The Senior Trustees would support development proposals from single sex schools wishing to move to co-education. I encourage further discussion on this issue within the partnership of schools and invite expressions of interest from Boards of Governors.
To conclude, I once more wish to acknowledge all those who work in, and support, our Catholic school communities. Children and young people will benefit if we continue to work together towards tomorrow.