Belfast Telegraph

Number of children in primary education hits 15-year high

By Rebecca Black

The number of children in our primary schools is at a 15-year high, a schools census has found.

A study conducted in October revealed there were 168,669 in primary schools - up 3,000 on the previous year.

However, the number of children in post-primary schools fell for a fifth year in a row to 141,112 - the lowest level since 1989/90.

The number of primary schools, including preparatory departments, also fell from 863 to 827.

The figure for post-primary schools - 202 -was down six on the previous year and 15 on five years ago.

While a third (67) of post-primary schools are grammar schools and the remainder (135) are non-grammars, the gap between the number of children attending non-grammars and grammars narrowed.

There are now 63,359 children in grammar schools and 77,753 in non-grammar schools, following a rise in enrolments at grammars this year.

The number of children staying on for sixth form is 30,500 - a slight drop from last year, but an increase of almost 5,800 pupils on 2003/04.

Around 74,750 children in schools have some form of special educational needs - 22% of the entire school population. Of these, more than 16,500, or 4.9% of pupils, have a statement of special educational needs.

Department of Education figures showed the number of pupils with special educational needs rose steadily, with an additional 1,300 pupils with special needs, and almost 600 additional pupils with statements, compared to the previous year.

Meanwhile, almost 24,200 pupils are in funded pre-school education - the highest figure on record and one that equates to more than nine in 10 of three-year-olds in the population. Funded pre-school enrolments have steadily increased over the past decade, with an estimated 200 additional pupils compared to the previous 12 months.

The number of pupils in each pre-school type increased slightly, except for in reception, which fell from 329 to 241.

Most pre-school pupils are enrolled in either nursery classes in primary schools (9,312) or voluntary and private pre-schools (8,716).

Some 803 institutions in Northern Ireland provide funded pre-school education. More than half of these are funded voluntary and are private pre-school centres - that is, playgroups and day nurseries. This number has risen steadily each year from 380 in 2010/11 to 405 most recently.

In the same time period, there has been a rise in the number of primary schools with funded nursery units (218 in 2010/11 to 235 in the latest figures), and a substantial decrease in the number of schools with reception pupils (102 to 67).

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