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The new academic year is only three months away - but 121 children have no school to go to

By Rebecca Black

Published 01/06/2015

More than 100 children in Northern Ireland have not secured a place at a secondary school just three months before the new academic year - and some have been offered places in schools up to 60 miles away.

The chair of Stormont's Education Committee branded the situation a "failure to fairly implement area planning".

The Assembly will debate area planning for schools today as 121 children across Northern Ireland try to obtain a place at a post-primary school before September.

But there is a limited choice left for these children.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that:

  • There are no places left at any controlled secondary schools left in the Belfast region
  • Just three grammar schools in Northern Ireland have availability, one in Enniskillen, one in Omagh and one in Strabane
  • Almost twice as many Catholic maintained schools (41) have availability compared to state controlled secondaries (24) in the Belfast, North Eastern, Western, South Eastern regions
  • A divide between east and west, with far more availability and choice for fewer children west of the Bann.

The South Eastern region, stretching from Bangor to Downpatrick, has the largest number of unplaced children with 41.

They have the choice of only state controlled or Catholic maintained secondary schools in their area. There are no grammar or integrated school places left.

Next most unplaced children are in the Belfast region (31). They can choose between Catholic maintained, one integrated or an Irish language school.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that not one controlled secondary school in the Belfast region has a place left.

Only three grammar schools in Northern Ireland still have places left but they may be a long drive for some. They are the Collegiate Grammar in Enniskillen, Omagh Academy and Strabane Academy.

Far fewer children in the Western region (9) and North Eastern region (8) are without places.

The Southern region by Friday had not confirmed the number of children still to be placed in a secondary school, or provided a list of schools with availability.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that seven P7 children in east Belfast had not yet been placed in a secondary school. One little girl lives across the road from Ashfield Girls where she wanted to attend, but did not gain a place there. Now she and six others are being offered school places in the North Eastern and South Eastern regions - some even in Coleraine or Ballycastle, 60 miles away.

The Department of Education, headed by Minister John O'Dowd, has an area planning policy to help decide how many schools are in each area and how many places each should have.

This morning that policy is being brought to the Assembly for debate.

Education Committee chair Peter Weir called the situation in east Belfast "appalling".

He accused the department of failing to implement area planning. "The appalling position that some parents have been left in east Belfast, with the ludicrous suggestion that they send their children to schools as far away as Coleraine or Ballycastle, is a by-product of the failure by the department to implement area planning and other processes and policies in a fair and correct manner," Mr Weir said.

"The east Belfast situation is a not a one-off, with the same problems replicated to a lesser extent in other parts of Northern Ireland."

He said area planning had been implemented in "a piecemeal and partial way and depended on unreliable statistics and dodgy assumptions".

"The failure to properly anticipate local demand for places, coupled with differing assessments of surplus places and an inflexible approach to adjusting enrolments, have all combined to help create this problem.

"Above all, it has not been on a level playing field, with the controlled sector at a particular disadvantage.

"That is why the DUP pressed for and secured under the recent Education Act for a Controlled Schools Sectoral Body, and why we will be pressing for its swift implementation.

"The Area Planning process has been deeply flawed."

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