Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

12,000 empty desks in our post-primary schools... that's equal to 22 surplus colleges

The total amount of space is equivalent to 22 schools of 600 pupils each
The total amount of space is equivalent to 22 schools of 600 pupils each

There are more than 12,000 empty desks in post-primary schools across Northern Ireland – the equivalent of 22 surplus schools catering for 600 pupils each.

The Belfast Telegraph has examined figures which lay bare the number of unused school places across various sectors.

The statistics – which reveal how many pupils each school is allowed and how many they have – shows that, unsurprisingly, grammar schools are the most popular choice of post-primary education among parents here.

Both it and the integrated education sector have no empty desks.

The figures have come to light after the publication of annual area profiles – a new health check of every school published online by the five education boards on the instruction of the Education Minister John O'Dowd (right).

As well as pupil numbers, they indicate a school's finances and its academic achievement.

The annual area profiles, which come 16 months after the controversial viability audits were made public, will continue to be made available to parents every year.

Statistics show unused spaces for pupils in 24 grammar schools, but when you compare that figure against the 43 grammars over quota, there are minus 292 grammar places.

The figures were calculated by deducting the approved enrolment from the actual enrolment.

Cambridge House Grammar has the highest number of empty desks at 104, but the North Eastern board, through the area planning process, wants to reduce numbers at the Ballymena school to 935 from the current approved enrolment figure of 1,030.

Although seven of the 20 integrated post-primary schools are undersubscribed – including Crumlin Integrated with 231 empty desks – 13 are above their approved enrolment, meaning there are in fact minus eight places in integrated provision.

The future of Crumlin Integrated is in the balance.

Several education boards have proposed increasing numbers at integrated schools including Priory College in Holywood, Erne Integrated in Enniskillen and New-Bridge in Loughbrickland. The other three choices of post-primary education – Catholic maintained, controlled and Irish-medium – all have empty desks.

The annual area profiles also show the falling demand for faith-based education with 47 Catholic maintained schools below their approved enrolment, meaning there are almost 7,000 vacant desks in the sector – the equivalent of 12 empty schools.

Catholic maintained schools due to close next month include St Gemma's High in Belfast, which had just 110 pupils, or 320 empty desks, and St Eugene's in Roslea with 134 pupils (166 empty desks).

In the controlled sector are 39 schools sitting with spaces and just over 5,500 empty desks across the sector – or 10 surplus schools.

Last month the North Eastern Education Board decided to pursue plans to close Ballee Community College, which has just 227 pupils, or 298 empty desks.

The only Irish-medium post-primary school, Colaiste Feirste in Belfast, has 44 empty desks.

There are more than 12,000 empty desks in post-primary schools – the equivalent of 22 surplus schools of 600 pupils each.

In September 2011 the minister announced plans to rationalise the school estate to reduce the number of empty desks in primary and post-primary schools.

The department put the empty desk figure at 85,000 – up from 72,000 in 2009-10.

Falling birth rates have led to reduced pupil numbers, but department statistics state that by 2020 there will be a rise in post-primary pupil numbers until 2025. There are plans to close or amalgamate at least 20 of more than 200 post-primary schools here.

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