Lurgan Model Primary’s long-held dream of winning integrated school status looks set to become a reality from September 2024, Armagh I can reveal.
The Education Authority has now published a pre-publication consultation advising of the planned change from its current controlled status to join the growing integrated education sector across Northern Ireland.
It was in July last year that parents of pupils attending Lurgan Model Primary voted in favour of such a move.
There was a 55 per cent turnout of parents for the ballot, with 99 per cent giving their backing to starting the process towards integration.
The results were revealed by the Integrated Education Fund, which supports the growth and development of integrated education.
Now, as a direct result, a development proposal has been prepared by the Education Authority which will be going out to consultation.
The intention is that “Lurgan Model Primary School will transform to controlled integrated status, with effect from September 1, 2024, or as soon as possible thereafter“.
The pre-publication consultation is undertaken before the formal issuing of the development proposal.
The case for change has been made by the Board of Governors of the school, which is located at Brownlow Terrace in the town.
In addition to the ballot of parents, there have also been, among other things, drop-in information sessions held, as well as full staff training delivered by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.
Expressions of interest and community support forms were collected at Rushmere Shopping Centre and the South Lakes Leisure Centre in December, and Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils were consulted by way of “age-appropriate class activities”.
According to the school’s case for change document Lurgan Model Primary opened on March 2, 1863, established as part of the National School system in Ireland at that time.
It opened as an establishment for pupils regardless of religious denomination and was explicitly non-denominational.
It was, according to the case for change laid out in the pre-publication consultation, an “ethos that has permeated through the generations”.
It adds: “The Board of Governors and staff have worked to promote the welcoming, inclusive nature of Lurgan Model Primary School.
“Enrolment at the school includes children from a range of nationalities, religions and cultures, representing the growing and diversifying population in the Lurgan area.
“The move to integrated status is a natural step in the school’s evolution as a school which wants to cater for the whole community in Lurgan town.”
The current principal of Lurgan Model Primary is Neil Campbell, who was appointed in 2015, at a time when the school had already begun the process of engaging with the Integrated Education Fund and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, to gather information on the transformation process.
Under his leadership, the school enrolment has steadily increased over the last seven years and is now operating at capacity, with 231 children currently registered, 26 of them in the nursery school age bracket.
The case for change adds: “The school’s culture respects the beliefs, values and traditions of everyone, and this is embedded in the school’s ethos.
“The school community wants to strengthen, widen and deepen these values by working towards fully incorporating the four principles of integrated education – Equality, Faith and Values, Parental Involvement and Social Responsibility – within our ethos.
“Transforming to controlled integrated status would allow Lurgan Model PS to publicly formalise these values, meet the need in the local area for integrated primary provision and build upon the inclusive practice that already exists.”
In 2018, the school was awarded School Enhancement Programme funding for a £4 million capital works improvement scheme, for which the business case has recently been approved.
And indeed, as Armagh I recently revealed, there are major plans in the pipeline which would see the historic building being “retained and refurbished”.
At the same time, there are proposals for an extension to provide an additional four classrooms “to the rear of the school accommodation block”.
There are plans too – currently being considered by ABC Council – to build a new stand-alone nursery unit in the playground to the rear, close to the Clara Street end. It would involve the rear pedestrian entrance having to be reopened.
The case for change has also examined the impact on schools within a six mile radius and feels that its planned move to integrated education would not be to their detriment.
“It is fair to say that the approval of this proposal should not impact significantly as the admission and enrolment numbers are not increasing and the school is currently at capacity,” it states.
“It should also be noted that there are places available in the area for those families that would prefer controlled or maintained education for their children.”
The document says that Lurgan does not have an integrated primary school; the closest, Portadown, is “consistently over-subscribed and currently has no available places“, and the next nearest, at Moira, is eight spaces shy of its 346 approved enrolment and therefore has “minimal spaces available“.
The statement says there are “no cost implications to this proposal at its implementation stage”, with no capital cost required either, as there is “no need for additional accommodation at the existing school site”.
The pre-publication consultation, which went public this week, adds: “Lurgan Model Primary School believes that by further developing our culture of respect and mutual understanding, promoting excellence and celebrating difference in the education of Catholics, Protestants, children from other beliefs, cultures and communities together every day in one school, the school can make a contribution to reconciliation and peace building in Lurgan and surrounding areas.”
The pre-publication will run until May 10, with the formal development proposal, taking consideration of feedback received, to follow.
Any objections or support should be lodged with the Area Planning Policy Team, Department of Education, Rathgael House, Balloo Road, Bangor, Co Down, BT19 7PR or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
The aim is for the change over – if all goes according to plan and the proposal is approved – to take effect from the start of the 2024/25 school year, just 17 months from now.