Education news

Education chiefs accused of favouritism towards grammar schools

Gerry Murphy, Northern Secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO)

TEACHING unions have accused government of favouritism towards grammar schools over the awarding of extra places.

A spike in the number of children starting post-primary this year means many schools are oversubscribed.

A handful of pupils remain unplaced, with east Derry, south Armagh and west Belfast among the most under pressure areas.

Most of the 1,000-plus extra places created to tackle the increase have been given to non-grammars.

It is the awarding of hundreds of spots to grammars in areas where there are empty desks in non-selective schools that has caused upset, however.

Parents, principals and unions have highlighted what they see as inconsistencies by the Department of Education in awarding `temporary variations' (TVs).

These allow schools to accept more pupils than their published admissions number.

Empty desks in west Belfast Catholic schools was the reason given to St Genevieve's for its TV application being rejected.

A shake-up of Catholic education in the area heaped pressure on it as the last remaining non-grammar school exclusively for girls.

From September, St Louise's will admit boys. There is space at the new All Saints College, which is an amalgamation of three single-sex schools.

St Dominic's Grammar School was given 25 extra places.

The Department of Education advises that each TV request is considered on its own merits and "the details of the individual children listed on a request help inform the final decision".

Grammar schools, however, never have issues filling all places because the system of transfer forces them to.

There is a statutory requirement that schools "must admit pupils up to an approved admissions number".

Often this means grammars accepting all first preference applicants regardless of test scores to meet intake quotas.

Children who do not achieve the grade needed typically attempt to transfer to another grammar with a lower bar, or seek a non-selective school.

Now, unions claim allowing grammars to simply grow further means non-selective schools are adversely affected.

Gerry Murphy, Northern Secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, said young people were being failed by the system.

"It appears that the grammar sector continues to be treated in a more favourable fashion by the DE than the non-selective sector," he said.

"The outworking of this is being felt by the students and families of our young people. The underlying problems here are a failure to address the continued injustice that is selection at age 11 and an inability to come to grips with area planning.

"What we are seeing in west Belfast at the moment will gradually spread across the entire system if radical steps are not taken right now."

Justin McCamphill of the NASUWT union said "the inconsistency in decision making is striking".

"It appears that Department of Education policy is to treat non-selective schools less favourably that selective schools. It is obvious that area-planning is a sham, there is no cross-sectoral planning and the non-selective sector is again left to pick up the pieces after academically selective schools have decided upon their intake without any reference to them," he said.

"The NASUWT is further concerned that there has been no consultation with the trade unions in those schools who have had their intakes increased in relation to how the extra workload will be managed or the pupils accommodated. Put simply, no school should be increasing its pupil intake without also increasing the number of teaching and support staff."

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