Education news

Mercy College plan to admit boys in doubt

Mercy College in north Belfast was due to begin admitting boys from September

PLANS to admit boys into an all-girls' high school have been postponed for at least a year.

Parents are angry at the last minute u-turn by Mercy College in north Belfast.

It was due to begin accepting boys from September as part of a wider changes involving four post-primary schools.

The trustees - the Mercy order - have asked governors for a deferral for 12 months.

A planned shake-up of post-primary schools is set to see the end of single-sex Catholic secondary education in north Belfast.

Two girls' schools and two boys' schools are involved in one of the largest re-organisations ever undertaken in the north.

However, grammar schools in the area will play no part, and will remain single sex.

Plans approved by then education minister John O'Dowd last March involve Little Flower and Mercy for girls and St Patrick's, Bearnageeha and Edmund Rice College for boys.

Two other Catholic schools have been shut down in the area in recent years - St Gemma's and St Gabriel's in Ardoyne.

Both Little Flower and Bearnageeha are being "discontinued" to facilitate the establishment of a new Catholic 11-19 co-educational post-primary - to be known as Trinity College.

That merger is the focus of a judicial review bid. The High Court was told this week that hundreds of Catholic pupils would be denied single-sex, non-grammar education by the amalgamation.

Lawyers for a pupil at Little Flower claimed Mr O'Dowd's approval of the merger ends that opportunity in north Belfast.

The overall plan also involves Edmund Rice and Mercy Colleges expanding and become co-educational from September 2017.

At Mercy's open night this week, however, parents were told that this was now on hold.

The Education Authority's admissions booklet still lists Mercy as a "co-educational post-primary" school and it is understood that primary school boys had been encouraged to attend.

Parents told the Irish News that they were disappointed and frustrated by the announcement.

The issue is further complicated because the school is bound by Mr O'Dowd's decision, unless the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has a request to defer the admissions of boys accepted.

It is understood the CCMS has not yet made such a request.

CCMS and the school declined to comment last night.

As part of the shake-up, campaigners want Mercy College moved from its existing site in Ballysillan and a new school built where St Gabriel's once stood on Crumlin Road.

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