Education news

Catholic grammar schools seek extra places to cope with rise in pupils

St Malachy's College, Belfast

FOUR Catholic grammar schools are seeking extra places to cope with a rise in pupils.

Almost 1,300 more children transferred from P7 to post-primary level this year compared to last, meaning many missed out on their first choice school.

Officials had already started looking at creating additional places to cope with demand next year, although numbers are not expected to rise as sharply again.

Now, four Catholic schools are bidding to expand from 2020.

They are St Malachy's College, Our Lady and St Patrick's College and Aquinas Grammar in Belfast, as well as Assumption Grammar in Ballynahinch.

Details of the plans are contained in a series of pre-publication consultations released by the Education Authority (EA).

One of the documents explained that over the past decade Aquinas had been over-subscribed "and witnessed the disappointment of parents and young pupils with grades A and B which would usually gain admission to the grammar school sector".

An increasing population and all-A intake has added to the pressure.

More recently, the situation has been made worse by over-subscription in Rathmore Grammar and Our Lady and St Patrick's, which share parts of their catchment area with Aquinas.

This has created a `ripple' effect onwards to St Malachy's.

Approving the plans would enable more Year 8 pupils the opportunity to avail of a Catholic grammar education.

Aquinas wants to increase from 770 to 910, admitting 130 pupils every year instead of 110.

Our Lady and St Patrick's would grow to 1,330 from 1,260, and admit 10 more first years annually.

St Malachy's would also increase by 20 places while Assumption would accept an extra 10.

Final proposals are expected to be published in the new year.

The EA has also published a `development proposal' to allow Strathearn School in east Belfast to grow.

"Due to a growing demand for post-primary places in Belfast many schools, non-selective and selective, are experiencing increasing pressure from parents and the local community to make more places available," the EA said.

"It is planned to bring forward a suite of proposals for the Belfast area to make adjustments to selective and non-selective schools.

"The proposal from Strathearn School is being brought forward in advance of the full suite of proposals."

There has been previous criticism over awarding places to grammars when neighbouring colleges have empty desks.

The Department of Education will typically reject expansion bids if officials believe they may have an adverse impact on other post-primaries, or if there is surplus capacity nearby.

However, Aquinas was given 20 extra places this year, while St Joseph's next door still had space.

Professor of Education at Queen's University Belfast, Tony Gallagher, said it was "entirely predictable".

"During the period of falling rolls grammar schools increased the proportion of the cohort they accepted, to the detriment of secondary schools," he said on Twitter.

"Now that overall enrolments are rising they want to expand still further."

He later added: "When academic selection was started about 17% were 'selected' for grammar schools. By the 1980s this had risen to 22%. After open enrolment it rose to 30%. After a long period of falling rolls it rose to 40%. Now they want more. So what exactly does 'selective' mean now?"

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