NI mum appeals to Education Authority to allow cancer survivor son a post-primary place
A Northern Ireland mum is appealing to the Education Authority for help to provide her son with a post-primary place.
10-year-old Max didn’t receive a place at four post-primary schools he applied for, despite submitting evidence of extenuating circumstances which outlines that his medical background has impacted his education.
At the age of six he was diagnosed with cancer and, after having his kidney removed and undergoing nine months of chemotherapy, missed a full academic year of school.
His mum Lynn told the BBC’s Nolan Show on Monday morning that he couldn’t attend school due to the risk of infection.
“We asked the Education Authority at the time whether he could get extra help and all they offered was four hours of tuition per week,” she said.
“He didn’t receive any additional support when he returned to school at the end of P3.”
During the pandemic, Max was considered vulnerable and had to shield, but because both his parents were key workers, his mother asked if he could still attend school.
“The Education Authority said that he could attend school, but he wouldn’t be taught because those in school would have an unfair advantage to other children who weren’t,” she said.
“While he sat the AQE, he didn’t get a top score, but this is because he was behind ever since his diagnosis.
“When applying for post-primary places we asked them to take this into consideration, but he has been left now without a school; he is the only child in his primary school without a place,” she added.
“Max is very resilient, and this weekend should have been a time for us to celebrate and look to the future but instead it was a time of anxiety, crying and focusing on the past.”
Lynn pointed out that Max had applied for one grammar school and three non-grammar schools.
The grammar school was able to offer additional points for the AQE for special circumstances, but she was told that “the time of his illness did not happen at the exam time of the AQE, so while they are sympathetic, no change has been made to the score”.
“I would do anything not to be in this position, for Max to not have had his cancer diagnosis, for Max not to have these special circumstances, but that’s not Max’s background,” she said.
Lynn added that, in addition to not being awarded additional AQE marks, reasons from the other schools include his religion being oversubscribed in the integrated school and the fact that his surname didn’t fall within random selection of alphabet.
“We chose these particular schools because we want him to move away from his cancer diagnosis, every child in his primary school knows about it, but we want him to be a normal child,” she said.
“But why are these special circumstances not even considered? I am pleading, please give Max a school.”
Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong said that her heart is “broken” hearing Max’s story.
“I’m very angry at this and I don’t understand how on one particular day there are 244 children left without a post primary place,” she said.
“I’d like the Education Authority to tell me how many of these children have special educational or medical needs; why are our most vulnerable children being left behind?”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Education Authority said that they “appreciate how difficult and upsetting this situation is for a child who has yet to secure a post-primary school place for September 2022.”
They will continue to support young people and parents through this stressful time, they said.
“We got in touch with families of each child who has not yet secured a place on Saturday May 21, outlining the next steps in the process and signposting to the help and support available.”
A total of 23,795 post-primary applications were made this year, with 98.97% of children placed in a school of their choice and almost 89% securing a place at their first preference school, according to the Education Authority.
"Our role in the Admissions process is to ensure that parents have the ability to list preferences in regards to schools they wish to be considered for.
"We facilitate the administrative process that enables schools to make decisions on applications based on their admissions criteria, which is unique to each school, and is set by the Board of Governors. The decision to offer and allocate a place rests with each individual school. The enrolment number is set by the Department of Education.”
Parents were also advised to direct queries or concerns to the Admissions Helpline on 028 9598 5595.