Northern Ireland news

Integrated campaigners launch plans for new college in mid Down

Pupils of Cedar IPS Nora Ellison and Felix Jackson. Picture by Declan Roughan

SUPPORTERS of integrated education have unveiled plans to shut down one college and replace it with a new school.

It is hoped the provisionally-named Mid Down Integrated College will open by September 2023.

Up to 600 pupils aged 11-18 will be educated and it will be non-selective.

If approved, Blackwater IC in Downpatrick will close permanently.

It is envisaged that the pupils and staff currently employed by Blackwater will transfer to the new proposed college.

The Blackwater site would still need to be used in the short-term.

The proposal has been brought forward due to "significant parental demand" for integrated post-primary provision in the area.

Campaigners said this was demonstrated by the over-subscription of Lagan College in Belfast, and rising expressions of interest.

A document outlining the rationale for the change shows that the new school would serve areas including Saintfield, Carryduff, Ballygowan and Crossgar.

It noted that Blackwater, which opened in 2008 following the amalgamation of Rowallane IC and Down Academy, had been under-subscribed in recent years.

While its maximum enrolment is 400, it has 235 pupils this year.

It added that it had still helped address the need for increased provision of integrated post-primary places in the mid-Down area.

"However, BIC is on a restricted site at the southern end of the catchment area and so is not in a good geographical location to meet the expressed need," the document added.

"It is significant to note that although BIC has been under-subscribed in recent years, the 2019/2020 enrolment has shown a significant increase. There are also very strong indications that this improving trend will continue due to close primary links."

A period of public consultation has now begun following the submission of the proposal to the Education Authority.

Roisin Marshall, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, said the plans presented a real opportunity.

"NICIE's role is to support initiatives and create opportunities for children to be educated together. The demographics of the area have highlighted a very significant level of unmet demand for integrated education. This will ensure more choice in the area and allow families the possibility of accessing integrated education from age of three to 18," she said.

Blackwater Principal Stephen Taylor said the plans would help provide a solution for his pupils as well as meeting the needs of families new to integrated education.

"Due to the limitations of our current site we cannot expand as we need to. This proposal offers great opportunity for our school to become part of an exciting new initiative, in what will be, eventually, a state of the art facility for children of all abilities and backgrounds," he said.

"The inclusion of a sixth form from an early stage within the project is exciting, and a welcomed opportunity for progression for young people. It is our expectation that the size of the school, which is projected to be for a minimum of 600 pupils, will facilitate the delivery of a curriculum, which will meet the needs of all students."

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