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Belfast Catholic secondary schools to end single-sex education - The Irish News
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Belfast Catholic secondary schools to end single-sex education

Little Flower Girls School in north Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

A SHAKE-UP of post-primary schools will see the end of single sex Catholic secondary education in north Belfast.

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

Grammar schools in the area will play no part, however, and will remain single sex.

Teachers have already expressed concern about numerous aspects of the plan, which, if approved, will mean children can only win places at single sex schools if they sit the 11-plus.

The proposals were first published as part of the Northern Ireland-wide area-based planning exercise.

This aims to address minister John O'Dowd's concern that the north has too many schools and not enough pupils. Proposals published in 2013 involved all schools in north Belfast, grammar and non-grammar.

Trustees recommended at that time that there should be four 11-19 schools to serve the area, and at least two should be co-educational.

The area's two Catholic grammar schools, Dominican College and St Malachy's, are not included in the latest consultation and will continue to use unofficial 11-plus-style entrance tests.

North Belfast, along with Newry and Derry, is considered one of the 'toughest nuts to crack' over the selection issue. It is argued if these areas agree to become entirely all-abilities, then almost every Catholic grammar in the north will abandon selection.

The latest plans involve four non-grammar schools - Little Flower and Mercy College 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 will be "discontinued" with a view to facilitating the establishment of a new Catholic 11-19 co-educational post-primary school. The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) said this would be "in effect an amalgamation".

The new school, which is likely to operate across a split site initially, will have an enrolment number of 1,300 including 325 sixth form places.

Edmund Rice and Mercy Colleges will both expand and become co-educational. The proposed enrolment numbers of both schools will be 750.

The plan is that the changes will take effect from the start of the 2017/18 academic year.

A public consultation will run for the next two months. Mr O'Dowd will then consider any objections and responses before making a final decision in the new year.


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