Northern Ireland news

New integrated college needed for south Belfast, assembly hears

Paula Bradshaw MLA

SOUTH Belfast needs a new integrated post-primary school to cope with ever-increasing demand, the assembly has been told.

Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw said parental choice was severely limited in that part of the city.

Area planning had not served south Belfast well, she said.

Most of the post-primary providers in the area are grammar schools, many of which have mixed intakes.

There is just one formally integrated secondary - Lagan College - which is oversubscribed every year.

While it is within the Strangford boundary, most of its pupils come from south Belfast.

Several other post-primary schools in the area have been merged or shut down in recent years due to falling numbers.

Rowallane Integrated, which operated at the old Belvoir Park Hospital site, opened without public funding in 2006. However, by 2008 it was gone, forming part of a merger to create Blackwater Integrated College in Downpatrick.

Approval of a new integrated school would be difficult to achieve when there are hundreds of empty desks in the area.

One option could be transformation of an existing college, which would first need support from parents.

Breda Academy, which is achieving a more mixed intake each year, had 300 empty desks in 2020.

"There is a lack of adequate options for those who do not sit the transfer test or attain a sufficient score, and integrated schools and many of the selective grammar schools are hugely oversubscribed," Ms Bradshaw said in an adjournment debate.

"In practice, the inadequate area planning restricts choice.

"One of the most pressing issues is post-primary transfer. There are particular circumstances in south Belfast because of its demographic and because so many schools that are right on its boundary are so sought after for miles beyond it, across the city."

She added that it was evident that many parents wished to choose integrated education, but were seriously limited in their choice.

"We need to reconsider transfer in general and also be proactive in considering the particular circumstances of the growing and changing school-age population in south Belfast," she said.

"We also need to ensure an integrated option is available for all ages to match increasing demand for it in our increasingly mixed communities."

Christopher Stalford of the DUP said one of the reasons that people wanted to send their children to Lagan College was not necessarily because it is an integrated school "but because it is a good school".

"Almost all the schools in my constituency could be described as `integrated'," he said.

"It may not say `integrated' on the sign over the door, but I think of schools such as Rosetta Primary School, Knockbreda Primary School and Fane Street Primary School, where maybe 70 or 80 languages are spoken.

All those schools in my constituency could be described as `integrated' because they reflect the diversity of our constituency. It is not for nothing that five different political parties represent south Belfast in this place: it is a diverse constituency."

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