A BALLOT is to take place among the parents of students at Bangor Academy after governors decided to move towards integrated status.
On Monday evening, after many months of discussions, governors voted to seek the views of parents on the proposal which the school principal said would build on the school’s ‘already established’ shared education’ ethos.
Headmaster Matthew Pitts has welcomed the ‘brave’ and ‘forward thinking’ decision by the governors to begin the school’s journey towards integrated status.
Currently the largest school in Northern Ireland with 1,835 pupils, Mr Pitts said the move is ultimately an ‘affirmation of our existing ethos, culture and values’.
Speaking after Monday night’s landmark decision, Mr Pitts sought to reassure parents and guardians of the ‘democratic’ process that would take place in the coming months in the run up to the ballot.
Stressing this was the ‘start of the transformation journey’ he spoke of months of parental and staff consultation, as well as community engagement before the ballot would open on May 5 and close on June 6.
He said: “We have two months to prepare before the ballot opens. There will be lots of parental and staff consultation as well as community engagement but ultimately it will be parents who make the decision.”
Mr Pitts said the governors are looking at the ballot decision as an affirmation of the school’s existing ethos, culture and values.
“It is a natural step of school improvement and is the next step in our journey,” he continued. “It is about saying this is what we believe in and what we could do to make it even better.”
Stressing that ‘democracy’ was at the heart of the transformation process, Mr Pitts said it was important that parents and guardians understood the school’s future was in their hands.
“Passing the resolution means that the governors think it is the right time to put the vote to parents and guardians. It is a democratic process and an independent company will be running the ballot.”
Mr Pitts said the secondary school’s transformation bid would build on its already established ‘shared education’ ethos. “We are already part of the shared education. There are four schools in the town and we have a lot of shared curriculum and staff training, so it is part of our ethos already.”
Reflecting on the already ‘balanced’ intake of pupils to the school, Mr Pitts said moving towards integrated status is the next step. “It is about the inclusivity of all students.”
Stressing that the school was just beginning the process, the principal said: “We are just at the start of the journey and we have two months to prepare.
“There will be lots of parental and staff consultation as well as community engagement and ultimately it will be parents who make the decision. The governors have made the bold step to progress the school to the vote, now it is up to the parents to make that decision.”
Mr Pitts said the full transformation process could take up to three years.
Should Bangor Academy and Sixth Form College successfully transform to integrated status, it will follow in the footsteps of Bangor Central Primary School that began its journey at the start of the 1998/1999 school year, with the parents of pupils at Bangor Central Nursery School giving overwhelming support to create the first integrated nursery school in Northern Ireland in 2019.
Other long standing integrated schools in the area include Priory Integrated College, that transformed from Holywood High School in 1997, with Strangford Integrated College first opening its doors also in 1997. Most recently St Anne’s Primary School in Donaghadee submitted a formal case for change to the Education Authority last year.
The decision to seek integrated status has been welcomed by North Down MLAs Andrew Muir and Connie Egan.