Schools minister: Number of stuck pupils is dwindling

Northern Ireland’s new education minister Michelle McIlveen has pledged to do all she can to ensure that post-primary children can all get places in next-level schools.

Education minister Michelle McIlveen at Ballysillan Primary School on her first official engagement, to present the Derrytrasna Pastoral Care Award
Education minister Michelle McIlveen at Ballysillan Primary School on her first official engagement, to present the Derrytrasna Pastoral Care Award

Miss McIlveen, who has just replaced DUP colleague Peter Weir in the role, was speaking in the wake of a slew of complaints about primary school pupils being unfairly treated when it comes to being accepted by secondary schools.

More than 23,000 P7 children across Northern Ireland were told on Saturday which school they have secured a place in.

But this year schools did not use transfer test grades to pick pupils.

Instead they have had to rely on other criteria, such as whether prospective pupils have siblings who attended the same school.

For example, BBC presenter Stephen Nolan today spoke to a child called Jack, who had wanted to get into Aquinas Grammar in south Belfast, then Grosvenor, then Inst, and then Wellington.

“I applied to four different grammar schools and none of them accepted me because I didn’t have an older brother or sister in them,” said the 11-year-old.

“It makes me feel a bit worthless. No school accepted me. There’s no real place for me next year.

“I’ve just been left at the side of the road. All my mates have places. I’m just left with none.”

The Education Authority said more than 98% of children have been placed in a school of their choice, with almost 85% securing a place at their first preference school.

But around 280 children were not placed in any school.

Miss McIlveen told the PA news agency on Monday: “This is a really stressful time for parents and for pupils. I appreciate that so many of them are dreadfully disappointed as a consequence of last weekend’s information that came through to them.

“We have been working really hard with EA (Education Authority) colleagues and also with schools and, quite good news in that we have placed 129 pupils as from yesterday.

“Obviously that work is going to continue over the next number of days and probably the next few weeks as the numbers start to dwindle down.”

Hilary Woods, principal of Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) in north Belfast, said the school had processed 483 applications, for 200 places.

Its criteria included whether applicants had attended a prep school or a a specified feeder primary school, and “in a tie-break situation, applicants were selected using computerised random selection”.

She said: “We recognise that some pupils and parents will be disappointed with the outcome of this process.

“BRA have always held that the fairest method of selection for grammar school entry is academic selection, but this year that has been taken out of our hands.”

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