Northern Ireland news

Boys to attend school that was once largest all girls' college in Europe

St Louise's will have its capacity reduced from 2,280 to 1,500 and will admit boys

AN all girls' college only told parents it agreed a plan to admit boys just one day before the deadline for applications.

St Louise's Comprehensive College, once the largest school for girls in Europe, will welcome boys as part of an overhaul of Catholic education. Its capacity will also be reduced from 2,280 to 1,500.

In a separate move three single-sex, post-primaries in west Belfast will also merge into one new 1,000-pupil school.

While the proposal was approved in 2017, parents told The Irish News they had no idea what was happening with the application deadline looming.

All post-primary schools were told to return admissions criteria to the Education Authority (EA) by October 26 last year.

Such deadlines are designed to give parents sufficient time to prepare applying for places.

St Louise's missed this deadline, however, and some parents also claimed there was no mention at the school's open night of the expected change to admit boys.

Each school has its own section on the EA website where it details the criteria used to select pupils. The page for St Louise's contained no information and continued to state it was a "girls' comprehensive".

The school sent a letter to parents on February 5 to indicate it was now "co-educational". The application deadline was February 6.

Almost all parents will have had meetings with their children's primary school principal to help complete their transfer application form well in advance of this deadline.

The shake-up of Catholic secondary schools in west Belfast is already a year overdue.

It was hoped arrangements would be in place by 2018, but were pushed back until September this year.

The plans were approved by Department of Education permanent secretary Derek Baker in July 2017.

The new school - All Saints College - brings together St Rose's Dominican College, Corpus Christi College and Christian Brothers' School (CBS).

It will initially operate on a split site with Years 8 to 12 at CBS and post 16 on at St Rose's and "provide excellence in educational provision and outcomes for young people in the area".

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools confirmed that the reorganisation would go ahead.

"All Saints College will open in September," a spokesman said.

"I can also confirm that St Louise's Comprehensive College is implementing the development proposal in full."

St Louise's made no comment about why it published its criteria late.

It said that since the proposal was approved, it had been in negotiations "to ensure that the implementation plan would be in the best interests of all our students, both present and future".

"The development proposal for St Louise's to become co-educational from Year 8 will be implemented in September 2019," principal Mary McHenry said.

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