Girl is left devastated as first-choice school rejects her in age gaffe
The parents of an 11-year-old girl claim a failure to apply a schools admission process properly has penalised their daughter who is devastated after being refused entry to the school of her choice.
Next month, instead of a nine-minute walk to school, the girl faces a 40-minute trek or two bus journeys and the same again to get home at the end of the school day.
The first selection criteria for entrance to St Mary's College in Londonderry is a sibling being a current or former pupil and the second is being the eldest girl in the family.
The fact that the girl's older sibling attended Templemore, the school demolished to make way for St Mary's new building on Northland Road, was not considered relevant and the girl was also wrongly deemed not to be the family's eldest child.
A seven-year age gap between children means the younger child is classed as the eldest in the house as the older one would legally be an adult.
The parents listed St Mary's College as their first preference all-ability school, but the child was refused entry so they appealed the decision at a School Admissions Appeals Tribunal.
A tribunal meeting with the family was held on August 13 at the Western Education and Library Headquarters in Omagh.
Last night, the child's parents told the Belfast Telegraph the tribunal confirmed their daughter was in fact deemed the eldest girl in the family because there was more than a seven-year gap between her and her siblings, who are aged 19, 28 and 29.
She said: "We have lived in this area for 30 years and she really wants to go to St Mary's College where all her friends are going.
"I don't drive so we would have to pay for bus fares for her to go to St Brigid's, the fourth preference school we had to put down on the application because we had to pick more than one. We didn't even want to put it down."
She added: "I feel sickened by what has happened.
"They don't see the hurt caused; she's devastated and so anxious, as we are so close to the new school term and don't know what is happening."
Jacqueline Williamson, the family's independent representative at the appeal hearing, said the girl always met the admissions criteria and it's unfair she is being penalised. She added: "We had smiles on our faces leaving the tribunal.
"Everyone was in agreement that the child was in fact the 'eldest child' and satisfied the admissions criteria of this school.
"The school was given 130 places for school year 2013/14 but they made an administrative error in the allocation of places and ended up having to allocate 150 places, well above their quota.
"In addition, out of the 150 school places, 116 children received places because they were the eldest girl in the family, almost 80% of the entire intake for this academic year."
Ms Williamson said she is shocked the family's appeal has been rejected.
She added: "I see no point having an appeals tribunal if it is not fit for purpose.
"I am calling on the Education Minister and every MLA and MP to intervene on this child's behalf, as she meets the admissions criteria and always has done.
"How she has ended up in this situation is beyond me.
"She was excited about heading out to the town with her parents to purchase her new school uniform, but instead she has been left inconsolable."
No-one from the Department of Education was available for comment.
St Mary's College admission criteria:
* Pupils who have sister(s), half-sister(s) or foster sister(s) currently or formerly enrolled in the school.
* Pupils who are the eldest girl in the family.
* Pupils presently resident in the Derry City Council area who have chosen St Mary's College as their first preference all-ability school.
* Pupils who live in the Derry City Council area.
* Pupils whose mother was a past-pupil of the school.
* Pupils who are resident in Northern Ireland.
150 children admitted; 34 admitted under first criteria, 116 admitted under second criteria, 25 rejected.