Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

1,000 children miss out on first choice primary school

Almost 1,000 four-year-olds across Northern Ireland have missed out on their primary school of choice because they were oversubscribed.

It means that hundreds of pupils now face having to bypass their local schools because demand outstripped supply.

The figures came to light yesterday after anxious parents received confirmation letters from the five education and library boards of P1 places for September.

More than 100 children have also been left without a P1 place.

Their parents now face an anxious wait to learn what school their son or daughter will be starting this autumn.

But as there are still 6,000 empty P1 desks in schools here, it means every child should be accommodated over the coming weeks and months.

The five education and library boards are now trying to find a place for 104 children, which equates to just 0.4% of the entire 24,000 applications they received.

The South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB), which stretches from Lisburn to North Down, has the most unplaced children.

A SEELB spokeswoman said: “The SEELB recognises the fact that not everyone will have been successful in obtaining their preferred choice of school and an appeals process exists to address this. Less than 1% of children remain unplaced (50). During the coming weeks and months staff from the SEELB will continue to work with the parents and the schools to secure places for the small number of children who have not yet received an offer of a place at a primary school.

“Details of the possible grounds for an appeal and the appeal process are contained in the letter issued to parents.”

One child who failed to secure a place at his two local primary schools — Donaghcloney, which is less than one mile from his door, and Waringstown, which is just three miles away and where he currently attends nursery — is little Jack Long (4).

His mother Heather will now have to make a 40-minute round trip every day before going to work to leave Jack at a school 10 miles away in Hillsborough.

Although she is happy with the school’s reputation, she is concerned that her eldest child will have no friends from nursery or the local area at the school.

Mrs Long, an administrator, has laid the blame at the door of the Education Minister John O’Dowd, who last week turned down a development proposal to increase pupil numbers at Donaghcloney Primary.

She said: “I am very disappointed. I was distraught when I heard. I was on the phone to the principal in Donaghcloney in tears. It’s ridiculous that a child can’t get into their local school.”

Mrs Long tried at least five controlled schools in her locality to try and secure Jack a place and all were oversubscribed. The mother-of-two had concerns as far back as last year after Jack also failed to get a pre-school place at four local nurseries. She said: “We ended up having to pay for him to go to a private nursery so we feel totally disadvantaged and discriminated against because we work.”

She even wrote to the minister last September to express her concerns. Local DUP MLA Sydney Anderson said: “It shows that there are problems in the system that need to be addressed.

“The minister says children should go to their local primary school. Your local primary school is not 20 minutes away and outside your geographical area. That is not putting in practice what the minister said should be policy.

“Clearly the issue at Donaghcloney needs to be reviewed in light of evidence that there were not surplus places in the area.”

Factfile

Total P1 places: 29,935

Total P1 places remaining: 5,995

Total P1 applications: 24,062

Total P1 pupils still to be placed: 104

Total P1 pupils who secured their 1st preference: 23,121

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