Northern Ireland news

Legal challenge dropped after Belfast Royal Academy agrees to change admissions criteria

Belfast Royal Academy in north Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

A LEGAL challenge against a grammar school's admissions criteria has been dropped after governors agreed to a change.

It had been claimed that Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) ignored guidance relating to recommended methods of selecting pupils.

Grammar entrance tests were cancelled this year, forcing schools to devise alternative criteria.

Amid warnings from lawyers, most abandoned efforts to use different forms of academic selection in lieu of transfer tests.

BRA adopted non-selective criteria but was due to face a judicial review taken on behalf of a P7 pupil at Holy Cross Boys' PS in Ardoyne.

For applicants to be in with a chance of being admitted, they were told they must first prove they entered the school's cancelled entrance assessment.

Lawyers highlighted issues with several subsequent tie-breakers, however.

The school planned to first award places to those enrolled in its preparatory department - Ben Madigan.

After that, it said it would prioritise pupils whose siblings currently attend BRA; those whose siblings previously attended; children whose parents are past pupils; children of staff members and then pupils attending a feeder primary.

In a statement released yesterday, the board of governors said it had sought at all times to develop a set of criteria that would be as fair, as equitable and as transparent as possible.

"However, in light of detailed advice received recently from senior counsel, the board of governors has decided to amend the alternative admissions criteria as published, and to submit the amended criteria to the Department of Education for approval," it said.

"The formal approval of the Department of Education is required before the amended admissions criteria can be published on the school website.

"The board of governors understand the distress that this ongoing uncertainty may cause for families and assure you that the amended criteria will be published as soon as we are in a position to do so."

The governors added that for legal reasons, the school had not been able to respond to questions from The Irish News about the challenge, which was due to be heard last week.

"For more than 235 years, Belfast Royal Academy has served as a beacon of hope, tolerance, and mutual understanding," the board added.

"We are one of the most diverse school communities in Northern Ireland in terms of religion, gender, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic background. The facts are clear: for every 10 pupils, four come from the Protestant tradition, three come from the Catholic tradition, and three come from other religious traditions and none; one in six of our pupils are entitled to free school meals; and one in 10 of our pupils have special educational needs. Our school community is integrated and inclusive and the envy of almost every other local post primary school."

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