Expansion of integrated college welcomed
THE expansion of a popular integrated college is unlikely to have a significant impact on neighbouring schools, its principal has said.
Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh has been told it can expand at the third time of asking and following a legal challenge.
It has been seeking extra places for years due to demand for integrated education in the area.
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 £150 million.
Drumragh principal Nigel Frith said the school community was delighted that at long last it had permission to expand.
Enrolment will grow from 580 to 645 over the course of the next five years. This will permit the college to increase its Year 8 admissions from 96 to 105 each year, and also to increase the sixth form from 100 to 120.
"Drumragh Integrated College requested permission to expand for a variety of reasons," Mr Frith said.
"At the heart of it all is our desire to meet significant demand from parents and children within the college's wide catchment area. We also aim to ensure that integrated education is available for those who would like it, across our local community. Thirdly, we are striving to maximise the opportunities available to those who attend Drumragh, so that each child may attain his or her personal best."
The Education and Training Inspectorate said it did not support the proposal while the Education Authority said it would "impact negatively on local post-primary schools by reducing their pupil intakes and negatively reducing their financial positions".
Drumragh was the only post-primary integrated school in the Omagh area, Mr Frith added.
"For most applicants there is no alternative integrated provision within reasonable travelling distance. Since the college's catchment area is wide, the proposed expansion is unlikely to have a significant impact on local schools, especially since the additional students are likely to be drawn from a variety of schools. It is important to note that the aim of the college's expansion is to admit those who wish to attend Drumragh Integrated College, not to draw away those who wish to attend other schools in the area.
"There have been some suggestions that the growth of Drumragh presents a threat to the Strule Shared Education Campus; however it can be seen that the expansion is actually quite modest in size. Drumragh supports any initiative that brings young people together in ways that shape their crucial values of mutual respect and acceptance; we encourage and support the Strule Campus in fulfilling this potential.
"Northern Ireland, and indeed the global village in which we all live, need urgently a generation of young people who will create communities based on peace, respect and reaching out. Drumragh Integrated College will continue to play its part in fulfilling this vision. The future looks bright."