Schools to share 800 extra places over next two years
SCHOOLS have been awarded hundreds of extra places for the next two years to cope with a surge in demand.
A mix of grammar and non-grammar schools will be allowed to admit more Year 8s this September and next.
In the last three years, the number of children transferring from primary to post primary has increased by more than 10 per cent.
This means hundreds have been left temporarily unplaced due to popular schools being oversubscribed - even though there are thousands of empty desks elsewhere.
The 2020 cohort is estimated to be 24,017, up slightly from last year but a significant rise from 21,732 in 2017.
The Department of Education had said it anticipated several areas may face significant pressure in 2020.
These include Belfast, Newtownards and north Down, Dungannon, south Derry, Antrim town and Newry.
The department wrote to schools last year explaining how they could apply for extra places.
It said post-primary schools serving under-pressure areas had the option of submitting an application to be considered for a temporary increase to their Year 8 admissions number for either one or two years.
Overall, 56 applications were received, of which 26 were approved.
There will be 443 extra places in 2020 and 361 in 2021. The department will look at 2022 in the summer, as it too is expected to be a pressure year.
Most of the places are being shared among five schools in east Belfast.
Other in-demand areas to receive a boost are Magherafelt, north Belfast, Bangor and Newtownards.
Many of the schools that appear on the department's list have also made applications for permanent increases in admissions numbers. These will be dealt with separately over the next few months.
The department said that without proactive action, evidence suggested that an increasing number of children would fail to secure places during the admissions procedure and may have an extended wait to gain entry to a post-primary school.
There was also a risk that the admissions process may not conclude on time, which would have caused unnecessary distress to children and their families and uncertainty to schools.
The aim of this exercise was to ensure pupils could access schools within a desired sector.
Failure to act, the department said, may have led to the position whereby children seeking a denominational education may have been unable to access this in certain areas.
Similarly, children seeking a non-denominational education may have faced such challenges in other areas.
Education minister Peter Weir confirmed the extra places, which he said followed a "detailed analysis of anticipated demand".
"In light of this, I have moved to provide additional Year 8 places in areas where pressure is expected to be highest and have authorised an additional 443 places in 2020 and 361 places in 2021," he said.
"My focus is on the welfare of children and to minimise stress on families at transition and I may authorise further increases during the admissions process if they are required."
AFTER being caught out in each of the last two years, the Department of Education has been proactive in addressing demand for places.
This exercise does not mean that every parent will get their child into the school of their choice. That would create even more issues.
Apart from being unworkable, it would simply displace children in other areas.
It is clear a lot of hard work went into this exercise - it was not simply pandering to parental demand.
The department's team would have looked at issues including primary enrolments, the pattern of applications and what kind of primary schools children are transferring from.
Some of the schools whose applications were turned down would not have been drawing pupils from pressure areas.
They needed to be in the `right place' and not simply looking for extra children, which of course would mean extra funding.
It is notable that Movilla High School has been awarded an increase. Just last year it was being lined up for closure but has turned around and revived.
The boost in places across the Strangford area is modest and only for one year.
It is difficult to second-guess exactly where parents will seek to send their children, and demand will vary from area to area and school to school.
However, the department at least has something that should speed up the process of transfer - especially for those children who are left unplaced initially.
EXTRA PLACES BY SCHOOL
SCHOOL 2020 2021
Grosvenor, Belfast 20 20
Ashfield Boys, Belfast 30 30
Strathearn, Belfast 10 10
Our Lady and St Patrick's, Belfast 10 10
Ashfield Girls', Belfast 22 0
St Malachy's, Belfast 20 20
Dominican, Belfast 10 10
Blessed Trinity, Belfast 10 10
Aquinas , Belfast 0 20
St Patrick's College, Dungannon 22 22
St Patrick's Academy, Dungannon 15 15
St Mary's, Magherafelt 12 12
St Pius X, Magherafelt 30 30
Antrim Grammar 24 24
St Colman's, Newry 15 15
St Paul's, Bessbrook 30 30
Our Lady's, Newry 28 28
Bangor Academy 20 20
Bangor Grammar 10 10
St Columbanus', Bangor 15 15
Saintfield High 4 4
Regent House, Newtownards 30 0
Movilla High, Newtownards 10 0
Nendrum, Comber 20 0
Glastry, Newtownards 6 6
Strangford Integrated 20 0
TOTALS 443 361
PLACES BY CONSTUTUENCY
East Belfast 162
Newry and Armagh 146
North Down 90
Mid Ulster 84
North Belfast 80
Fermanagh/S Tyrone 74
South Antrim 48
South Belfast 20