North Down special needs pupil wins court battle

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A north Down boy with special educational needs has won a High Court battle to get into the secondary school of his choice.

The 12-year-old was denied a place at St Columbanus’ College in Bangor, Co Down due to a cap on its intake of pupils with learning difficulties.

He had been ruled out because he moved from a Catholic to state-controlled primary school to ensure his needs were catered for.

But in court on Thursday counsel for the South Eastern Education and Library Board accepted it had misdirected itself in applying its entrance criteria.

Under the terms of an agreed settlement that authority is expected to acknowledge any pupil who has at one stage attended a Catholic primary school is eligible.

Due to the outcome the boy is set to gain a place at St Columbanus in September.

He had moved back in P4 because no Catholic school in his area had an appropriate specialist unit for his moderate learning difficulties.

His parents agreed to the switch recommended by a psychologist employed by the Board on the basis that it was his in best educational interests, the court heard.

The boy’s mother claimed she was told it would not effect his chances of getting into St Columbanus.

But a cap was said to have been put on the number of pupils with special educational needs the school can take in the transfer process.

With more applications last year than available places, an admissions criteria was used where preference was given to pupils from a Catholic maintained primary school.

The boy failed to get in on that basis, and a Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal upheld the decision.

His mother then issued judicial review proceedings against the Board, claiming the criteria was unlawful.

It was also alleged that he had a legitimate expectation of getting into St Columbanus.

In court, Steven McQuitty, for the board, announced a resolution in the case.

Setting out the terms of a proposed order, he said: “It seems right and fair that the respondent should say they effectively misdirected themselves as to the application of their own criterion.”

He acknowledged that had it been applied properly the boy would have secured entry to St Columbanus.