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Four schools earmarked for merger in Downpatrick

St Patrick's Downpatrick is among the schools included in the plan

GRAMMAR and secondary schools could come together under a planned overhaul of Catholic education.

Plans being put out for consultation include a recommendation to merge four schools into one.

They are De La Salle High, St Mary's High, St Patrick's Grammar, all in Downpatrick, and St Columba's College in Portaferry.

It is understood there are numerous options - one of which is to retain the status quo.

Another would see the creation of two 800-pupil schools while a separate option proposes creating one large 1,600 pupil college in Downpatrick.

At present, there is no sixth form provision in St Columba's. Pupils transfer to schools in Downpatrick for A-levels. If a single school was opened in Downpatrick, pupils' daily journey from Portaferry would involve a ferry across Strangford Lough.

Some parents have already pledged to fight for the future of St Columba's, warning a merger could be detrimental.

It is understood any new school would not use 11-plus style entrance tests.

SDLP assembly member Colin McGrath, who is a governor at St Mary's, urged parents to participate in the consultation.

"The bottom line is that many children in our area are not accessing a varied enough curriculum because of the restriction of small staff teams located across multiple sites. The suggested proposals maximise the opportunities children have and will provide multiple educational pathways - many more than are currently on offer which will result in improved educational experiences and outcomes," he said.

"I welcome that academic selection will not be used for local children as a means of entry to any proposed new school. This antiquated method of selecting children is simply cruel.

"The consultation is open until mid-May and I would encourage parents and local people that are interested to appraise themselves with the consultation and to participate in the process to ensure their views are made known."

The Catholic bishops are opposed to academic selection and have repeatedly asked grammar schools to stop using entrance tests.

Previous reorganisation plans have brought together grammar and non-grammar schools to create all-abilities, non-selective post-primaries. These include St Killian's in Carnlough and St Ronan's in Lurgan. Other Catholic grammars including Loreto College in Coleraine and St Patrick's in Armagh have stopped using entrance tests.

Most of the new all-abilities schools are in rural areas, however. Grammar schools have remained outside plans in cities including Belfast, Derry and Newry.

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