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Girls lose High Court challenge to Co Fermanagh grammar school admission policy after Covid-19 saw transfer tests cancelled


A judge rejected claims that criteria used by the grammar school was irrational

A judge rejected claims that criteria used by the grammar school was irrational

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A judge rejected claims that criteria used by the grammar school was irrational

Two girls who missed out on places at a Co Fermanagh grammar school after transfer tests were cancelled due to Covid-19 have lost a High Court challenge to its admission policy.

A judge rejected claims that criteria used by Mount Lourdes in Enniskillen which involved taking dates of birth into account was irrational.

Despite identifying no unlawfulness, Mr Justice Scoffield recognised that both girls were likely to have secured places if the normal admissions process had been in operation.

He said: “Sadly, (they) are some of the many young victims of circumstance of the pandemic.”

Judicial review proceedings were brought against the school’s board of governors following their failure to gain entry for the 2021/22 academic year.

With transfer tests stopped at the time, parents applied on behalf of their children as part of an amended admissions criteria.

A total of 126 applicants were made for 96 places at the school.

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Priority was given to those with another girl of the family currently enrolled, and then those were the first in their family to transfer to secondary education.

A further criterion involved admitting the eldest pupils first to remaining places in the oversubscribed school as part of an age-based tiebreaker.

Both girls in the legal action were said to have been devastated at missing out.

One of them was described as topping the class at primary school, where the principal predicted she would have achieved the grade needed to get into Mount Lourdes.

The other child’s primary school headmaster also set out how she had been nominated for head girl and was capable of achieving high standards in her future academic career.

Lawyers for their parents argued that the school’s admissions criteria were illegal, irrational and discriminatory.

But Mr Justice Scoffield held that it had properly engaged with Department of Education guidance and acted validly in highly unusual circumstances where academically selective schools were deprived of normal transfer test procedures.

Claims that the age-based criterion unlawfully discriminated against the girls were also dismissed.

“Obviously, all admissions criteria are designed to be discriminatory in some sense, since it is their purpose to differentiate between applicants for permission,” the judge said.

Citing delays in taking the case, he confirmed that leave to seek a judicial review was being refused.

However, grievances over the “sense of exclusion and unfairness” at failing to get into the school were acknowledged.

“These feelings were exacerbated by the fact that the two girls were not given an opportunity to secure a place on their own merit in the usual way and saw their friends admitted on grounds which seemed to them to be arbitrary,” Mr Justice Scoffield added.

“A certain degree of heartache will always result in circumstances where children are vying for limited places at popular schools which are over-subscribed.

“It seems indisputable that this heartache, for at least some, was magnified in the transfer procedure with which these proceedings are concerned given the upset to the usual process caused by the pandemic, which upended numerous plans and expectations.”

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