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Integrated college can grow despite warnings

Drumragh Integrated College can increase from 580 to 645 pupils

AN integrated school has been awarded extra places in spite of warnings it will hamper a £150 million shared education campus.

Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh has been told it can expand at the third time of asking and following a legal challenge.

The school had originally been invited to be part of a shared campus at the former Lisanelly army base but instead received a new building of its own.

It has been seeking extra places for years due to demand for integrated education in the area. Two previous bids were rejected.

Now, the Department of Education has agreed its expansion but only by an extra 65 places, not the 95 it wanted.

While the move has been welcomed, concerns were raised during a consultation exercise about the impact it would have on the Strule Shared Education Campus.

The department is pouring money into Strule, which will see five schools share facilities. It is expected to cost at least £150m.

The co-location of schools is intended to increase opportunities for collaboration and sharing of facilities. A mix of grammar, non-grammar, Catholic, state and special schools will occupy the site. So far, just one has opened - Arvalee School and Resource Centre.

Those who objected to the Drumragh proposal warned the department that allowing it to grow had "the potential to undermine the future viability of schools on the campus, and the campus as a whole".

Advice sent to department permanent secretary Derek Baker also warned "the investment in Strule will be wasted".

The Education and Training Inspectorate said it did not support the proposal while the Education Authority (EA) said it would "impact negatively on local post-primary schools by reducing their pupil intakes and negatively reducing their financial positions".

"The two schools which in the authority's view will most likely be adversely impacted upon, should the increase be approved, will be Sacred Heart College and Omagh High School. Both schools have experienced a downturn in enrolment numbers, but specifically Omagh High School," the EA said.

"Any further reduction in number will impact significantly on the school, particularly going forward in the Strule Shared Education Campus."

Mr Baker approved the proposal but "with a more modest increase in the enrolment and admissions numbers than those contained in the original development proposal".

"On the one hand, there is evidence of unmet demand, over a period, for integrated education in the area, and there is no alternative integrated education provision within reasonable travelling distance," he said.

"On the other hand, one must be mindful of the potential impact of the proposal on existing post primary provision in the Omagh area, not least against the backdrop of the considerable investment being made in that provision as part of the Strule Shared Education Campus."

Integrated Education Fund chief executive Tina Merron welcomed the approval.

"Year after year Drumragh Integrated College has proved itself a popular and successful school," she said.

"The decision by the department to approve additional places will ensure that more families who wish to choose integrated education will be able to do so. Drumragh's success has shown that integrated education is very important for families in this area and I am delighted that they will no longer have to turn any families away."

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