Northern Ireland news

Down hurling family back campaign to save grammar school

Noel Sands and his sons Daithi and Eoghan are the latest to back the Save the Red High drive. Picture by Mal McCann

A FAMILY of Down hurlers have thrown their weight behind a campaign fighting plans to merge three Catholic schools into a new `voluntary grammar'.

Noel Sands and his sons Daithi and Eoghan are the latest sportsmen to back the Save the Red High drive.

It has been proposed that a 1,600 pupil co-educational school could open by September 2022.

The amalgamation involves St Patrick's Grammar School, known locally as the Red High, De La Salle High School and St Mary's High School in Downpatrick.

It has been in development for several years.

It was originally intended that it would involve four schools and include St Columba's College in Portaferry. However, this was dropped after concerns were raised that the existing ferry service would not have the capacity to get all children to school on time.

A revised proposal was held up by a legal challenge. A judicial review against the merger was dismissed last year. A judge rejected all grounds advanced, including claims that a consultation process had been unfair.

Governors, staff, parents and pupils at St Patrick's continue to express strong opposition.

The Red High PFA (parents and friends association) is leading a campaign to overturn the plan, which is now out for public consultation.

It has been sharing video messages online from past pupils who now play sport at a high level.

They include Owen Clarke, the head physiotherapist at Crewe Alexandra FC, David Morgan, who has been capped by Northern Ireland at U21 level and who plays for Accrington Stanley and Dylan Boyle, a midfielder with Fleetwood Town FC.

The latest to share their endorsement are the Sands family from Portaferry. Father Noel played for Down for almost two decades, winning three Ulster championships. His sons Eoghan and Daithi have featured for Down more recently.

"The values and skills we gained at the Red High have stood by us. Now is the time to stand by the Red High," said Noel Sands.

The proposed new school will retain academic selection for up to 40 per cent of children for whom it is not their nearest Catholic post-primary.

A case for change document outlining the rationale said the transformation of the three schools into one "is a very progressive step towards assuring breadth, depth and quality of educational provision for pupils".

"The new school would provide a full range of courses, particularly at post-16 and offer all pupils a much greater choice of subjects and learning experiences," it added.

"The level of cooperation and collaboration already in place amongst the Downpatrick schools would be further enhanced by the realisation of the amalgamation."

Any objections to the proposal must be received by the Department of Education by March 29.

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