Northern Ireland

Extra school places already considered for next year

Orangefield High School was one of four schools in the east Belfast area to shut in recent years
Orangefield High School was one of four schools in the east Belfast area to shut in recent years

EXTRA school places are already being considered for next year as demand is set to intensify.

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

They were informed on Saturday which schools they will attend.

More than 1,000 extra places were made available at 75 schools this year in anticipation of increased demand.

The Department of Education told the Irish News that even more one-year pupil increases would be considered for 2020.

Close to 200 children remain without a Year 8 place and most of them live in East Belfast.

In the last dozen or so years, four controlled schools in the wider area have disappeared.

Lisnasharragh and Orangefield closed while Knockbreda and Newtownbreda merged to become the new Breda Academy.

There were also advanced plans to shut down Dundonald High School, which has been re-invigorated since it was saved.

Pupil numbers have doubled there in the last five years, and it is now oversubscribed heavily at Year 8.

Five schools in the area, including Priory Integrated College in nearby Holywood, were all awarded extra places this year but it is still not enough.

There is some space at Breda, with the other closest alternatives in Newtownards and Ballynahinch.

Observers have suggested it was short-sighted to close so many secondary schools in the same area in a short period of time.

Lisnasharragh and Orangefield might have benefited from a merger given their close proximity on opposite sides of Castlereagh Road. However, they fell into different education board areas who separately brought forward closure plans.

NASUWT National Official for Northern Ireland Justin McCamphill said statistics had highlighted a bulge in numbers in local primary schools.

"This is something that was foreseen so it should have been planned for," Mr McCamphill said.

"This situation also demonstrates that area-planning needs a cross-sectoral approach to address the elephant in the room - academic selection. This is directing the way parents of children apply for schools."

Barry Mulholland, Chief Executive of the Controlled Schools' Support Council (CSSC), said it was disappointing that a small number of pupils did not yet know which post-primary school they would attend.

"This undoubtedly leads to stress and uncertainty for these children and their families," he said.

"CSSC appreciates that managing school allocations can be a complex process, however as the education system transforms, we would be keen to work with the Education Authority and other stakeholders through the area planning process to ensure that there are sufficient places, where needed, in the future.

"By taking a long term strategic approach, CSSC believes that the potential impact on young people can be minimised."