Media campaign is officially launched at public meeting at school
By Eleanor McGillie
HUNDREDS of people gathered at Markethill High School to join the community’s campaign to develop post-primary education in Markethill and to campaign for a new-build school and a Sixth Form which would provide local pupils, aged 16 plus, the education they want, need and deserve.
Last night (Monday, September 10) Principal James Maxwell spoke to a crowded Assembly Hall of people who had travelled from Armagh, Markethill, Newry and the surrounding areas to listen to the reasoning behind the town’s campaign.
Mr Maxwell received an overwhelming response from the audience, the Lord Mayor, the Board of Governors and also received written support for the campaign from Mervyn Storey MLA and DUP Spokesperson For Education and Chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.
In a statement read out, Mr Storey said: “I am well aware of the proposals contained within the SELB area plan and the concerns that it has raised. Those concerns extend also into the City of Armagh and how education will be provided in the future.
“As you know I have already met with representatives of the Board of Governors of Markethill High School and Mr Maxwell at the request of Cllr Donnelly, during her time as Lord Mayor. I intend to meet with representatives from both the Royal and City of Armagh Schools in the coming weeks.”
In June, the Education Minister John O’Dowd announced in the Assembly that he had authorised the Education and Library Boards to start the consultation on Post Primary Area Plans and said that the extended consultation period would run for a full 16 weeks until October 26.
The Minister indicated that by extending the consultation period to 16 weeks, he was ensuring that schools and the general public get sufficient time to read and reflect on the proposals before responding.
Four short listed options were put forward following an Economic Appraisal.
- Amalgamate the City of Armagh and Markethill High Schools. Provide new replacement buildings on the Markethill High School site for an estimated 700 pupils. Refurbish and extend the Royal School buildings for an LTE of 700 pupils.
- Amalgamate the City of Armagh High School and the Royal School. Refurbish and extend the existing Royal School buildings for an LTE of 850 pupils. Provide new replacement buildings on the Markethill High School site for an LTE of 550 pupils.
- Amalgamate the City of Armagh and Markethill High Schools. Provide new replacement buildings, co-located with the Royal School, for an LTE of 700 pupils. Refurbish and extend the existing Royal School buildings for an LTE of 700 pupils.
- Amalgamate all three schools and provide a new 11-19 all ability school on the Royal School site for an LTE of 1,400 pupils.
Last night, Mr Maxwell, said that although the four options were laid on the table, he was also aware that enhancements would be considered. He said the enhancement to having a new build school in Markethill would be to have a Sixth Form, a move which over 80 per cent of parents have said they want.
Mr Maxwell, who has been Principal for 10 months, said the community of Markethill is ready, capable and confident to build on the success of the school by developing it further through a new build in the town with Sixth Form status.
Last month, Markethill High School celebrated excellent GCSE results. 85% of pupils achieved 5 A*-C grades or better in their GCSE examinations. This was the schools’ best ever results by six per cent. It was also the first time the school has received results over 80 per cent. The results put Markethill High School as the top-performing non-selective controlled school in the Southern Education and Library Board, placing the school into the top 6 per cent of all non-selective schools in Northern Ireland.
He said: “It is time for a Sixth Form in Markethill, so that a vision for education from the age of 4 through to 18 can be achieved on the same road, the Mowhan Road, in the same town, encompassing all our feeder primary schools which we value so much.”
During his speech, Mr Maxwell said he hoped the Minister for Education, John O’Dowd, lives up to his pledge from September 2011 to allow popular, oversubscribed schools to grow.
Mr Maxwell said Markethill High is popular and wants to grow and said the statistics and projections for a demographic increase suggest Markethill High is going to see significant natural growth in intake over the next 18 years.
He said: “In 2030, it is predicted that secondary schools in the Armagh area will potentially be catering for 4,663 pupils (babies born 2015-2019). That is a huge increase in pupils from now.
“The Economic Appraisal Report states that 36 per cent of these pupils would under normal circumstances be educated in either Markethill High School, the Royal or the City of Armagh High School. If the status quo were maintained, this would amount to 1,679 pupils in 2030. So why are the proposed solutions only catering for a total of 1,400 pupils?”
Mr Maxwell also highlighted why the two options out of four which propose post-primary education moving from Markethill to Armagh City are not deemed appropriate for the Markethill community.
One of the options proposes a new-build, non-selective school situated right beside a selective school on the same site in Armagh City. “By placing two such schools beside each other, surely, such a solution will only serve to accentuate and heighten the notion of selective education, will enhance the notion of a two-tier system which is centred upon academic selection, will coerce our primary schools into a situation where they will be forced to teach to a test, and will by default put emphasis on success versus failure at the age of 11 which I thought Northern Ireland was trying to move away from”
“And once again, what equality would our pupils have in this situation? Six hundred pupils, having to be bussed up to 14 miles or more into Armagh City every morning, with a road infrastructure which struggles as it is at the moment at busy times in Armagh, bussed back home every evening, and then are they meant to go back in the evening to avail of these notional new sporting facilities in Armagh City which may or may not become a reality?
“The place for the development of sport and leisure for our pupils and the community is in Markethill. Over the past two years we have built up an outstanding and highly positive relationship with the sport and leisure Officers at the Council, and we are exceptionally grateful for their help, support and dedication to developing sport and leisure in Markethill. The second year of our Recreation Centre launches this week.
“Last year 116 people joined the fitness suite. You do not break what is not broken.”
Speaking about the option which would see the amalgamation of all three schools in Armagh City, Mr Maxwell said: “This option sees an end of parental choice, lack of equality and just look at existing examples, such as certain very large schools in Liverpool and Merseyside which are less than three years old and already deemed failures by Ofsted or already threatened with closure. It also goes against Sir George Bain’s claim that parental choice must be an important factor in educational services.”
Mr Maxwell spoke of the goodwill towards Armagh City schools and said he wishes all children who are educated in Armagh, every success and said that schools are already collaborating on a regular basis.
He said: “We have no arguments with Armagh City, we do not want to step on toes or infringe on other issues in the City. We wish the pupils who choose to get educated in Armagh City well. They, too, deserve the best possible education.
“We would simply reiterate that there needs to be an Armagh City solution and a mid-Armagh solution in the form of a new-build at Markethill with Sixth Form.
“What some people don’t realise is that collaboration is already happening, sharing is already taking place, and it is as effective as it is ever going to be. Each month the Principals of 12 Controlled, Maintained, Special and Integrated Schools in the Armagh City and District area meet to discuss initiatives, share good practice and instigate common initiatives at a local level. In June this forum established cross-sectoral steering groups for literacy and numeracy. That is collaboration at its very best, and at its most cost-effective.
“I, personally, will be proactive in the drive this year on behalf of all the schools to explore how online learning can enhance access to courses for all pupils in the 12 schools. That is effective collaboration, collaboration that gets to the heart of what education is about, and is collaboration at its most cost-effective.”
Mr Maxwell said the community in Markethill is delighted the school is bucking regional trends. It continues to attract students and it continues to operate with a healthy bank balance, something which many schools across Northern Ireland can’t say.
Mr Maxwell said that, coupled with excellent standards, both curricular and extra curricular, is attracting more and more students who not only want to be educated to GCSE level but also want Sixth Form education.
He said strong community links continue to make Markethill High School an attractive school for pupils, their parents and the community as a whole.
He said: “Parents actively choose to send their children here because of the ethos, the rural feel, the family-oriented nature of the school, because of the strong and unbreakable community links, as well as the excellent exam results which now place us in the top 6 per cent of all non-selective schools in Northern Ireland, and potentially as the top non-selective Controlled School in the Southern Education and Library Board.
“We are a rural school and we are proud of it. We serve our students well by offering the second broadest curriculum in the area – a curriculum which is tailored to the needs and interests of our pupils.”
Mr Storey reiterated Mr Maxwell’s message that the community’s campaign is education driven and said that Markethill High School is essential for the education of children living in the surrounding areas.
In his statement he added: “I have taken the view regarding these area plans published by the Education and Library Boards across Northern Ireland that, first and foremost, Board of Governors must consider the education provision of their own school and sector in a way that is about ensuring that they continue to provide a quality education for the children and young people who attend their school.
“After having given that consideration the issues that are related to other schools and their impact should be considered. No school or Board of Governors should feel pressurised into going down a road when there is no educational reason for doing so. It is my personal opinion that for the young people of the mid Armagh/ South Armagh area, the retention of Markethill High School is essential.”
For further information contact Eleanor McGillie of McGillie Media & PR on 028 3756 9863 or 07709805379 | Public Relations Northern Ireland
NOTES TO EDITOR:
- Markethill High School celebrated excellent GCSE results last month. 85% of pupils achieved 5 A*-C grades or better in their GCSE examinations. This was the school’s best ever results by six per cent and the first time the school has received results over 80 per cent. The results put Markethill High School as the top-performing non-selective controlled school in the Southern Education and Library Board, placing the school into the top 6 per cent of ALL non-selective schools in Northern Ireland.
- January 2012 – Markethill High School – winners of a £4,000 prize fund for the best Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics project application to develop those subjects with Year 9 pupils.
- In May 2012 Markethill High School was announced the British Academy Award Winner for the Best School in Northern Ireland for Modern Languages, with an award of £4,000. The school is shortlisted to the final three schools for the title of Best School in the United Kingdom for the delivery of Modern Language education.
- In May 2012 – Laura Marshall in Year 11 was awarded the outstanding title of Northern Ireland’s Young Entrepreneur of the Future
- For the second year running, in June 2012, Jonathan Armstrong in Year 12 was named the Southern Regional College student of the Year as a result of his work on the Schools’ Partnership Programme studying Occupational Studies