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School enrolments up for eighth year in a row

There are more than 344,000 pupils in all funded schools

SCHOOL closures are having little impact on enrolments with the number of pupils up for the eighth year in a row.

There are more than 344,000 pupils in all funded schools this year, an increase of more than 2,000 compared to 2016.

The figures have been published by the Department of Education. The data was taken from the school enrolments census which was conducted in October 2017.

They show that enrolments in primary schools alone increased by more than 2,000 pupils on last year to 173,745. This is the highest number of primary school children recorded since 1999.

The rise comes at the same time as schools have been shutting down.

Since government accepted in 2007 the recommendations of the Bain Report, which suggested minimum enrolment numbers for schools to be viable, about 150 schools have been approved for closure or amalgamation by consecutive ministers.

The Department of Education's sustainable schools policy recommends that at least 105 pupils should be enrolled in a rural primary school and 140 in an urban setting. However, pupil numbers should not be the sole determining factor when considering whether schools are viable long term.

Many of the schools that have closed in recent years had low pupil numbers while neighbouring schools had enough empty desks to accommodate them.

The new statistics show that since 2013, 22 primary schools or grammar `prep' departments have closed.

The numbers in post-primary are also on the rise, slightly increasing for the first time in seven years to 140,550 pupils.

Compared to last year, enrolments increased marginally in non-grammar and decreased slightly in grammar schools. The numbers enrolled in sixth form has dropped for the third successive year - declining by 1,000 since 2016.

There are 11 fewer post-primary schools now compared to 2013.

There are fewer pupils attending funded pre-school education due mainly to a fall in numbers attending voluntary and private settings.

Special school enrolments, meanwhile, have gradually increased, rising by more than 900 pupils in the last four years to 5,736 in 2017/18.

Approximately 100,000 pupils are entitled to free school meals in 2017/18 - almost three in 10. More than half of pupils in special schools are entitled to free meals for the fifth year in succession.

Non-grammar pupils are also much more likely than grammar school pupils to be entitled to free school meals - 39 compared to 14 per cent.

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