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St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar sticking to selection as it rejects merger

By Rebecca Black

A Catholic grammar school has insisted it will maintain its use of academic selection despite vehement opposition to the policy by both Education Minister John O'Dowd and the Church.

St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar in west Belfast is one of a few Catholic schools to retain academic selection.

Yesterday it announced that it had rejected a plan to expand. It is understood that this would have involved ending its use of academic selection.

The Edmund Rice Trust initiated plans two years ago to create a Catholic 'super school' on the Glen Road by merging St Mary's with the Christian Brothers' (Secondary) School (CBS), which is located across the road from it.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) drafted a development proposal last year to close the CBS - which has around 500 pupils.

CCMS does not run St Mary's, which is a voluntary grammar school.

However, in line with the Edmund Rice Trust vision, it is understood that a second development proposal had been drafted to increase enrolment at St Mary's to ensure places for the children from the CBS.

There are currently 1,200 boys enrolled at St Mary's and part of the deal is believed to have been the ending of academic selection.

On Monday evening the board of governors at St Mary's voted in favour of maintaining "100% academic selection".

As a result of the board's decision, the proposed consolidation with the CBS will not proceed.

St Mary's principal John Martin said there was a strong parental demand to retain the status quo at his school, rejecting what he termed as a move away from academic selection in Belfast.

"The board of governors believe that any change to our entrance criteria should be taken in the context of a general move away from academic selection by all of the Catholic grammar schools in Belfast," he said.

"There is a strong need for the parents in west Belfast to continue to have the option of an all-boys' grammar school positioned within the heart of the local community."

Mr Martin added that his school offered a "broad and balanced curriculum that is fully compliant with the entitlement framework", and that the school had significantly improved academic results by 15% over the past two years in pupils gaining seven or more GCSE passes at A* to C, with 72% of students gaining three or more A-Level passes at A* to C.

There has also been strong local opposition to the proposal from CCMS to close the CBS on the Glen Road.

One supporter who contacted the Belfast Telegraph yesterday said they hoped the school would now remain open. "This now means that Christian Brothers' School, described by the Education and Training Inspectorate as an 'outstanding school' in June, will continue to provide both academic and skills-based opportunities for all," they said.

Former St Mary's pupil Ronan McLaughlin slated the decision to retain grammar status as a "disgrace". He said: "To me St Mary's has turned its back on the Edmund Rice ethos, and with that the most educationally deprived children in west Belfast."

Quotes

A spokesman for the Edmund Rice Trust, which is the trustee of both schools, said it was disappointed but would continue to work towards a merger.

A CCMS spokeswoman said the development proposals over the future of the schools would be redrafted.

"CCMS has just been informed by the trustees about this recent development, that St Mary's Grammar School have withdrawn support for the development proposal. Both proposals for the two schools were linked and stood together," she said

"This latest development clearly requires a revisiting by CCMS of the original proposals."

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