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Seven-year-olds face selection process as parents are warned that school is oversubscribed

By Rebecca Black

A primary school is devising new selection criteria - for seven-year-olds.

Nine children may be left without a place at Strandtown Primary School in east Belfast next September despite attending feeder schools because of expected oversubscription.

Strandtown operates from P4 onwards, with the vast majority of its intake coming from three infant schools - Belmont, Dundela and Greenwood.

In recent years Strandtown has been able to accommodate the larger numbers coming through, but the number of children currently in P3 at the three feeder schools will surpass its total allowed enrolment of around 960.

Parents of the P3 children were informed about the plan by a letter on Monday.

The letter invites the parent to a meeting next Wednesday evening "to explain the new admissions procedures to the school".

It reads: "Belfast Education and Library Board has advised the board of governors to develop revised criteria that will be applied to all applications to the school for September 2015. These have the potential difficulty that all applicants may not be offered a place in Strandtown Primary School for Year 4."

The letter, signed by Strandtown principal Paul McClenaghan, claims: "There have been important changes forced on the school contrary to the wishes of all four boards of governors and, despite a number of requests in writing and in person to continue the link between our schools as described when your children entered primary one."

It is understood the new criteria may include whether the child has a sibling at Strandtown and the proximity of where they live to the school. Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane is on the board of governors at Strandtown.

She has a child at the school and also a child currently in P3 at Greenwood, one of the three feeder schools.

Ms Cochrane claimed that the BELB has not been helpful, and said that staff and governors had been left "frustrated".

"Understandably, these parents are concerned as the long-standing link between the schools, which was described at the time of enrolment to P1, is being removed against the wishes of all four boards of governors," she said.

"The problem has arisen because of rising numbers in Greenwood, Belmont and Dundela infant schools, and that the admissions number in Strandtown is smaller than the aggregate potential of the feeder schools."

Ms Cochrane said she had been alerting Education Minister John O'Dowd about the problem over the past two years. She met Mr O'Dowd over the matter last night.

"The minister has assured me that he has requested regular updates from BELB and expects them to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the situation is managed in the best interests of all the children concerned," she said.

"The boards of governors, staff, parents and pupils would all agree that the best interests would be that the children transition as normal from the feeder schools to Strandtown, and I will continue to do everything I can to achieve this option."

A BELB spokesman said: "The three feeder schools to Strandtown PS have maximised their enrolment over the past number of years. However, the board is aware of this issue and is clear that a positive resolution in relation to this can be achieved.

"In an effort to progress this matter, the board is arranging a meeting with the four schools to clarify the way forward."

Story so far

This year's P3 was a bumper year that sparked a nursery school place crisis in several parts of the province in 2011.

Hundreds of children in Belfast were unable to get a place in a teacher-led nursery unit.

This age group is now in P3 which has created a new crisis in the unique Strandtown Primary School system, which takes in children from three feeder schools, starting at P4.

Strandtown has an enrolment of around 920, but if all children currently in P3 at the feeder schools intend to transfer, it is projected that nine may not be able to be accommodated.

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