Caitriona Ruane’s preferred system of school transfer for 2010 favours Catholic pupils over Protestant children when it comes to getting into oversubscribed schools, it has emerged.
An Equality Impact Assessment of her proposed school admissions guidance — Transfer 2010 — states that the first criterion recommended by the Education Minister for use by all schools gives an advantage to Catholic children.
The Education Minister wants all schools to use Free School Meals Entitlement (FSME) as their first criterion and calls on no school to use academic selection. Schools could then choose from a menu of other criteria, including feeder primary, sibling, eldest child, parish, catchment area, nearest suitable school and random selection.
Ms Ruane would like over-subscribed schools to admit FSME applicants first in proportion to the number of first preference FSME application received. For example, if 30% of first preference applications come from FSME children, 30% of the Year 8 places should go to children receiving free meals.
The equality assessment document — which appeared quietly on the Department of Education’s website on Friday — states that 62% (2,584) of the FSME children currently in P6 are Catholic and only 29% (1,194) are Protestant. Of the total P6 cohort, 50% of the children are Catholic and 39% Protestant.
Children quality for free school meals if their parents/guardians are in receipt of benefits. It is known that Protestant families have a lower take-up rate than Catholics.
In relation to this issue, the assessment report states: “There would appear to be a differential impact that adversely affects Protestant children.”
However, it adds: “It needs to be remembered that the overarching policy objective is to address the socio-economic inequalities in the current system.”
Ulster Unionist education spokesman Basil McCrea said free school meals was “never a good measurement to use” and the figures from the department’s own report “now prove this”.
“We should not be playing politics with our children,” Mr McCrea said. “I think putting out the equality assessment report out on Good Friday during a holiday period shows that the Minister is losing confidence in her own proposals.
“The last thing we wanted to see developing was a Catholic test and a Protestant test.
“However, I don’t think the Minister will back down and the schools setting tests are planning a single test for 2010. Northern Ireland wants to move on so we will just move on without the Minister.”