Northern Ireland

Portora Royal/Collegiate merger: Headmaster hits out at successor

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Media captionDr Neil Morton criticised his successor for her 'implacable opposition' to amalgamation

The outgoing head of one of Northern Ireland's most prestigious grammar schools has written an unprecedented statement criticising his successor after a divisive amalgamation process.

The letter, obtained by the BBC, was sent to parents of pupils at Portora Royal in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, by headmaster Neil Morton.

The school is due to merge with Collegiate Grammar School in September.

Dr Morton had applied to be the head of the new school but did not get the job.

It was given to Elizabeth Armstrong, principal of Collegiate. Ms Armstrong had opposed the amalgamation.

In his letter to parents, Dr Morton criticised Ms Armstrong for her "implacable opposition" to amalgamation and that it had come at a very high price.

He said much bitterness could have been avoided, and new schools in Enniskillen already been built, if she had embraced the plan earlier.

Ms Armstrong told the BBC said she would prefer not to comment in the media.

Image caption A petition to save Collegiate Grammar School in 2014 attracted 7,000 signatures

In February, the High Court in Belfast rejected a judicial review from a Collegiate pupil.

The judge said that "in reality the challenge was brought not by the pupil but the leadership" of Collegiate, as part of their "determined and ongoing opposition" to the proposal to close the school.

Dr Morton told parents that fighting the legal challenge cost the school governors £35,000.

'Not sour grapes'

The Department of Education said its costs amounted to approximately £64,000 and added that the applicant had also received legal aid.

It pointed out that none of the 36 detailed grounds of challenge were upheld.

In an interview with the BBC, Dr Morton said: "It's not sour grapes, I'm not quite sure how to define sour grapes anymore.

"It is obviously a move which reflects some personal disappointment, but it's a professional issue.

"The issue is this; that the person who was responsible for 10 years, along with others, for delaying this amalgamation - and all the consequences of that for the students in Fermanagh, new buildings, new curriculum, everything was delayed because of that.

"That person now has been appointed to the school that she opposed for so long."

He said there should be a proper review of the amalgamation process.

"A community was torn apart by this.

Image caption Portora Royal School is due to merge with Collegiate Grammar in September

"This opposition to the amalgamation was very painful and honourable men and women were tainted by it and were accused of all sorts of impolitic actions unfairly.

"It's not just that someone stood up and said I don't want the amalgamation.

"It is that a group of people stood up and said we don't want this amalgamation, we're going to move heaven and earth to make sure it doesn't happen and if that hurts people, so be it, we will hurt people.

"And they did."

The 900-pupil Enniskillen Royal Grammar School will open in September, initially split across two sites, before a decision is made on where to build a brand new school.

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