Education news

Oversubscribed St Genevieve's High School loses bid for extra places

The popular St Genevieve's is the last non-selective all girls post-primary school in west Belfast

A POPULAR girls' school has lost a bid for extra places - meaning children from its main feeder primary face missing out for the first time.

Almost 1,300 more children across the north are transferring from P7 to post-primary this year compared to last.

Areas including east and west Belfast, south Derry and south Armagh are among those most affected by the increase.

Work is continuing to accommodate every child. Since last week the number unplaced has fallen from 226 to 153.

Figures obtained by The Irish News today show that progress is considerably slower in some areas.

More than 1,000 extra places have been pumped into the system but schools are continuing to frantically apply for even more.

The oversubscribed St Genevieve's High School in west Belfast is one that has been told its application has been unsuccessful.

This means that, for the first time, some children from its main feeder Holy Child PS have been left unplaced.

Changes to Catholic education in west Belfast removed hundreds of places at all-girls' schools.

This has put greater pressure on St Genevieve's.

If oversubscribed, it awards places first to girls "who have a sister or half-sister currently enrolled in the school" and then to "the eldest girl in a family". Therefore, girls with an older sister who attends a grammar school, or even another non-selective college, fail to meet these two criteria.

Only if it has space left after considering those two tie-breakers does St Genevieve's move to its third criterion, which is girls enrolled in Holy Child PS.

Parents told The Irish News that they had been advised there had never been issues with Holy Child girls transferring, but this year a small number have been told there is no place for them.

Some are appealing, while others are considering Catholic schools elsewhere. Parents have been told there are places at the new All Saints College and Malone Integrated College.

Department of Education permanent secretary Derek Baker wrote to West Belfast MP Paul Maskey to explain the decision on St Genevieve's.

Only where there was no other school with places available within reasonable travelling distance of the family home would the department grant a temporary variation (TV) application, he said.

"St Genevieve's HS requested a TV to their admissions number for the 2019/20 school year, however, all of the pupils listed resided within reasonable travelling distance of at least one alternative (Catholic) maintained post-primary school which has places available. Unfortunately DE was therefore unable to grant a TV to the admissions number at St Genevieve's," he said.

"The majority of the children on the request had already secured places at alternative schools, albeit schools that were listed at lower preference on their transfer forms. A small number are still unplaced and I am acutely aware of the impact this will be having on the children and their families."

Just 11 children remain unplaced in west Belfast according to the Education Authority. It has been providing a daily update showing how many children remain without a Year 8 place, and where they live. These updates show that some areas appear to be experiencing greater difficulties.

Meanwhile, parents of children in P6 are being reassured that pressure on places should ease slightly next year.

Officials are already looking at creating extra places to cope with added demand, and pupil numbers are not expected to rise as sharply as the last two years.

There were 23,949 transferring this year compared to the 24,017 that are currently in P6.

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