Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Dear Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, the school closest to my home won't let me in. Can you help?

Girl's letter over college refusal

Margaret and Eddie Ogilive
Margaret and Eddie Ogilive

The parents of an 11-year-old girl left distraught after she was refused a place at her local school have said she will be kept at home until St Mary's College accept her as a pupil.

Margaret and Eddie Ogilvie, from Londonderry, told the Belfast Telegraph a failure to carry out a schools admission process properly had penalised their daughter, Jessica.

St Mary's College, on Northland Road, attended by children from as far away as Claudy, Park and Co Donegal, is less than 10 minutes walk from Jessica's home.

She is the only child from her primary school class not to get a place in their first or second choice of school.

Now she has written a letter to the 'Prime Minister of Northern Ireland' – which has been brought to the attention of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness on Twitter – appealing for help.

The school Jessica was accepted for is a 40-minute trek, or two bus journeys away.

The Ogilvies have vowed not to send their daughter to any school when the new academic year starts.

They want St Mary's – where all Jessica's friends are going – to admit her as a pupil.

Margaret said: "She is absolutely devastated. She's not eating, she's crying, she feels sick and is getting more anxious.

"We want her to start St Mary's with her friends. What has happened is a disgrace."

When Jessica was first rejected by the school the family was left stunned and appealed the decision at a School Admissions Appeals Tribunal.

The family's independent representative at the appeal, Jacqueline Williamson, said the principal of St Mary's recommended that Jessica should receive a place.

Jacqueline said: "When asked on the original application form was she the eldest in the family the Ogilvies said no, as they have three other children aged 19, 28 and 29. There was no guidance on the form explaining if a gap of seven years exists the child is considered to be the eldest."

The school had 130 places for the upcoming academic year, but following an administrative error ended up allocating 150 places.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said: "The department issues guidance to schools on the setting of admissions criteria. If a parent/ guardian feels that the school has not applied its criteria properly, then it has a right of appeal to an independent appeals tribunal." A statement from the board of governors of St Mary's College said: "The information regarding Jessica's elder siblings and their ages was never provided to the school and only came to light at the appeals tribunal.

"However, had she been considered under criterion 2 she still could not have been offered a place due to the random selection tiebreaker."

FACTFILE

St Mary's College admission criteria

1. Pupils who have sister(s), half sister(s) or foster sister(s) currently or formerly enrolled in the school.

2. Pupils who are the eldest girl in the family.

3. Pupils presently resident in the Derry City Council area who have chosen St Mary's College as their first preference all-ability school.

4. Pupils who presently reside in the Derry City Council area.

5. Pupils whose mother was a past pupil of the school.

6. Pupils who are presently resident in Northern Ireland.

2013/14: 150 children admitted; 34 admitted under criteria 1; 116 admitted under criteria 2; 25 children rejected.

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