Northern Ireland news

Schools warned not to bow to parental pressure and exceed admissions numbers

There are fears that with a higher number of pupils it may be harder to get into popular schools

SCHOOLS are being urged to stand firm against parents whose children are refused places - even if they send them on day one in full uniform.

There are fears that with a higher number of pupils it may be harder to get into popular schools.

Unions have described this year's application process as a "scramble".

There have been occasions where children who were denied their first choice school were sent regardless, and in uniform.

Principals have been warned they will be acting unlawfully by bowing to such pressure - and also risk being stripped of funding.

Every school has a published admissions number - which shows how many pupils it can legally admit in each year group.

The Department of Education has the power to adjust this through a temporary variation (TV).

Its main aim is to ensure every pupil is placed "within reasonable travelling distance of their home address and within the sector the family has chosen".

Factors including a pupil's residence in a particular parish, the fact they are an eldest child or family connections are not normally taken into consideration.

In the past, the department has agreed large variations. Two years ago it awarded 32 extra places to Catholic primary schools in south Belfast after unprecedented demand.

Primary enrolments are on the rise and parents fear their children may miss out on their first choice this year.

In a letter, the department reminded schools that they must not exceed their admissions number, unless granted a TV.

"To admit pupils in excess of the approved numbers of the school is an unlawful act," guidance states.

"Schools should note that such unlawful admissions may be automatically rated zero for funding purposes and therefore may not be funded."

Figures from the Education Authority show about 40 pupils have been `zero rated' in recent years meaning schools have received no money for them.

Primary pupils are worth roughly £3,000, therefore cash-strapped schools risk losing large sums if they take extra children.

"The department is aware that boards of governors can be placed under considerable pressure by parents whose children have been unsuccessful in securing a place at their school," the guidance added.

"This can result in families presenting their child at the school demanding admission. In some cases the child in question may even be wearing the uniform of the school in question.

"In all cases, however, the school must recognise the legal position and resist taking any action that will lead the boards of governors of the school to act unlawfully."

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