Belfast Telegraph

Tyrone integrated school given green light for more pupils

By Rebecca Black

An integrated school in Co Tyrone, which had to take its battle for more students to the courts, has received approval to increase the size of its classes.

Drumragh Integrated College initially applied back in March 2012 to be allowed to accept more students, but then Education Minister John O'Dowd turned down the proposal based on advice from the department's area planning policy team.

There then ensued a legal battle in the High Court. In 2014 Mr Justice Treacy said the department had failed in its legal duty to "facilitate and encourage" integrated education.

He also criticised the department's controversial area-based planning policy that has been used to determine which schools will remain open, expand, close or amalgamate to meet future demand.

Now Drumragh has been permitted to expand.

From next September the college, located just outside Omagh, will increase its numbers.

A development proposal published by the Education Authority last week confirms that Drumragh Integrated may increase admissions and enrolment numbers from 96 to 111 and 580 to 675 respectively, with effect from September 1, 2018.

Principal Nigel Frith welcomed the move, saying that his school had been oversubscribed in recent years.

"The college has had to turn children away for nearly a decade, and the blunt reality is that if a child is refused admission to Drumragh, they are probably also being denied an integrated education," he told the Ulster Herald.

"Drumragh Integrated College is the only integrated post-primary school in the Omagh district, meaning that many prospective pupils refused a place here are denied an integrated education.

"For a number of years the college has witnessed the disappointment and frustration of prospective parents and students who were being told they could not study here. A key challenge for us has been to support those who have told us they were despairing of gaining admission and were considering giving up. This could be called the 'despair factor' and it is simply unfair.

"This is about filling parental choice."

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