Catholic grammar to retain some selection amid Kilkeel shake-up
A CATHOLIC grammar school is set to retain a form of academic selection as part of a planned shake-up in Co Down.
A proposal has been published to increase pupil numbers at St Louis' Grammar in Kilkeel but have less than half of places awarded based on transfer results - making it a 'bilateral school'.
At the same time there is a plan to "discontinue" St Columban's College in the town.
Discussions about the two schools have been held, on and off, for years.
About five years ago, the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education unveiled plans for a series of mergers and closures across the north. The aim was to create a new network of all-ability schools.
At that time, it was intended that a review would "determine how best the educational opportunities for pupils in St Columban's College may be achieved as part of the transition to a larger St Louis'".
That was to include consultation on the potential closure of St Columban's and be subject to "guaranteed access for current pupils" to Catholic post-primary education in the area. There was, however, no movement and both schools reopened the following September.
Part of the problem for St Columban's was that its neighbouring grammar school said it had no plan to become all-abilities, would continue using 11-plus tests and even issued a statement saying it would "not change".
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools revisited the issue this year. Pupil numbers at St Columban's had fallen to below 150, although it had its largest Year 8 intake in years, admitting 44 in September.
The latest proposal, if approved by a Stormont minister or permanent secretary, would see St Louis' increase from 570 to 860 pupils from September 2018.
However, the criteria for admissions will be bilateral. This aims to ensure that children from the area of Lower and Upper Mourne can access the school through non-academic criteria, while up to 40 per cent of Year 8 places will be available to children from the wider region by means of academic selection.
There are currently a small number of other bilateral schools permitted to use tests to determine a proportion of admissions, including Slemish College in Ballymena, Lagan College in Belfast and Holy Cross College in Strabane.
The Catholic Church told its grammar schools eight years ago to phase out selection, and scrap all entrance tests by 2012.
Loreto College in Coleraine and St Patrick's Grammar School in Armagh no longer use 11-plus tests. St Ronan's College in Lurgan is also a non-selective grammar school.
A proposal to end selection at Dominican College in Portstewart was also approved while Omagh Christian Brothers' Grammar School and nearby Loreto Grammar will phase out selection entirely by 2020.