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Northern Ireland school place crisis: Parents protest as hundreds left without desk

By Rebecca Black

Almost 300 P7 children remained without a post primary school place yesterday morning - just three months before the new school term starts.

Last Friday, 313 children across Northern Ireland still had not been allocated a post primary school place - a huge increase from 188 left without a place after the first round of the process last year.

A week on, and the number of unplaced children was yesterday morning estimated at 271, with the figure expected to continue to drop as Education Authority officials work with parents to resolve the situation.

Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers said of the 271 children, he understands that almost a quarter of them (63) are in the North Down area.

The Education Authority (EA) last night would not elaborate on which areas the remaining unplaced children are in.

The EA has published a full list of schools across Northern Ireland at which places still remain.

This morning, MLAs from a number of political parties are to meet officials at the Department of Education's headquarters at Rathgael House in Bangor this morning while angry parents protest outside.

Last night, Mr Chambers called on the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education to produce a common sense solution to the ongoing school admissions crisis in North Down.

Some 40 children who applied for places at Bangor Academy this year were not successful, and now face having to travel to Portaferry every day for a post primary school place.

Bangor Academy principal Matthew Pitts told disappointed parents that "it is not a school decision".

He contends the school had requested extra places on two occasions to accommodate the higher numbers in this year's P7 age group, but was turned down.

Both the Department of Education and the EA have said they are working to resolve the issue.

Yesterday Mr Chambers, along with his party education spokeswoman Rosemary Barton, met with officials from the department and a senior official from the Education Authority to discuss the situation.

"Officials committed to giving us a decision within seven working days, with regard to them assessing a third attempt made by Bangor Academy, to secure a temporary variation to increase entrance numbers by around 40 places," he said.

"This is the obvious solution and one which has universal political support.

"The Ulster Unionist Party fully supports the parents affected in their efforts to secure a common sense outcome, and urges the Department of Education to facilitate a temporary solution so that Bangor pupils can attend Bangor Academy.

"In the words of a local post primary headmaster - 'exceptional circumstances require exceptional solutions'."

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