Northern Ireland news

Extra post-primary places will not be approved before new school year

Almost 100 extra places at grammar schools were being sought for September 2020

EXTRA places being sought by grammar schools to cope with another bumper transfer year will not be approved by September.

Six oversubscribed schools have been awaiting ministerial decisions on whether or not they will be allowed to welcome more pupils.

However, consultation exercises on the `development proposals' have all been extended until late September, due to Covid-19.

There is no guarantee that schools will return in September this year, but if they do it will be without the additional places.

There has been a steady rise in the number of children transferring from primary to post primary.

In the last three years, this has increased by more than 10 per cent.

This means hundreds of children have been left initially 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.

The Department of Education has said it anticipates several areas may face significant pressure in 2020.

These include Belfast, Newtownards and north Down, Dungannon, south Derry, Antrim Town and Newry.

Schools with significantly more applications than places in under-pressure areas were invited to apply for consideration of a temporary increase 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.

In addition, six grammar schools and one non-grammar had sought permanent pupil increases.

It was hoped these would be approved to allow these schools to grow from September 1 but the consultations have been extended until September 19.

In total, 95 extra pupils would be spread across the schools from this year. They would also be able to admit more pupils in subsequent years.

The schools include Assumption Grammar in Ballynahinch, Bangor Grammar and Aquinas, St Malachy's and Our Lady's and St Patrick's in Belfast.

In addition, St Joseph's in Donaghmore wants to double the number of Year 8 pupils it can admit into its Irish-medium unit. The proposal has been signed by Archbishop Eamon Martin, who is chairman of the board of governors.

It has already been confirmed that children in P7 will have to wait an extra five days before they learn which secondary school they will attend in September.

The Education Authority has said the notification of post-primary placement was moving from Saturday May 30 to Thursday June 4.

This is "due to the continued impact of Covid-19 on the delivery of key services".

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