Northern Ireland news

Urgent need for more Catholic and integrated primary school places in south Belfast

St Ita's PS is one that is annually over-subscribed

SOUTH Belfast is in urgent need of more Catholic and integrated primary school places, a report has found.

Researchers from Ulster University carried out a `community conversation' to gather views of parents affected by an annual scramble for places.

Catholic and integrated schools in the area are over-subscribed.

With south Belfast perceived as a positive and safe place to live and send children to school, the numbers seeking places is growing further.

The research was commissioned by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF).

In recent years, extra places have been made available at in-demand Catholic primary schools.

Close to 80 children over a three year period are known to have missed out on P1 places at two schools in the parish Drumbo and Carryduff. And in south Belfast, St Bernard's PS turned away close to 50 children in the same period.

St Ita's in south Belfast is one of the newest Catholic schools in the north, having opened in September 2005. A new school in an established area is still something that happens infrequently. It opened because St Joseph's in Carryduff could no longer meet the demand for Catholic education in the area.

In the integrated sector, Forge IPS is due to relocate onto the former Knockbreda High School site and its numbers will increase to 420. Enrolments have been rising and it is over-subscribed every year.

The report found six primary schools in the area were at, or almost at, capacity and "demand is currently exceeding the approved enrolments for both the integrated and (Catholic) maintained sectors".

There was a "moderate increase" of 7.5 per cent in the local population between 2007 and 2017 and a decrease in those identifying as Protestant.

Researchers said there was general consensus that the demand for places was not a temporary problem. They heard the good reputation of the schools was enticing even more families into the area.

The report suggested that an extension of the school building on the St Joseph's PS site, leading to an extra year intake, would help ease pressure.

In addition, it said "the potential for a three-year intake at each of the three integrated schools should be explored in order to increase integrated places in the area".

Although the focus was primary schools, parents also expressed concerns about post-primary places, in particular at Lagan College. As part of a more "joined-up approach" to education in the area, the researchers strongly recommended a review of options to expand post-primary provision in south Belfast.

IEF Chief Executive Tina Merron said the community conversation had given an important opportunity for parents, principals, governors and other interested parties to voice their views about sustainable education provision.

"Our belief in the community conversation methodology transcends a wish to see a specific outcome," she said.

"All stakeholders have a duty to respect the views of local communities and, indeed, it is a core principle of this approach that the process belongs to the participants and not to any organisation or educational body."

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