Northern Ireland news

Grammar school admissions criteria indirectly discriminated against children with origins outside Northern Ireland

Mr Justice Scoffield held that a condition giving priority to those with a father who attended Abbey Christian Brothers in Newry was unlawful

A GRAMMAR school's admissions criteria indirectly discriminated against children with origins outside Northern Ireland, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Scoffield held that a condition giving priority to those with a father who attended Abbey Christian Brothers in Newry was unlawful.

His landmark verdict could now clear the way for a son of migrant workers to secure enrolment.

The judge said: "Even assuming that the maintenance of family links is part of the preservation of the school's ethos which is a pressing need for the school, the discriminatory effect of (the) criterion on racial grounds is not justified in pursuit of that end."

The 11-year-old boy at the centre of the case applied for entry into Year 8 at Abbey Christian Brothers.

With the school oversubscribed and academic selection called due to the pandemic, he missed out on a place in September.

Lawyers representing the boy challenged an admissions policy said to advantage prospective pupils with a family connection.

The main focus was on a criterion giving preference to those whose father or guardian attended.

Defending the claim, the school's board of governors contended that Department of Education guidance was properly considered and taken into account.

In his judgment Mr Justice Scoffield made the comparison between a child seeking to attend the school whose national origins are in Northern Ireland, and one with origins outside the region.

A requirement in the admissions criteria to have a past pupil father put the second category at an unjustified disadvantage, he held.

"The adoption and use of criterion (iv) in the respondent's admissions criteria for admission to Year 8 in the 2021/22 academic year was unlawful, void and of no force or effect.

"Accordingly, as a matter of law, criterion (iv) should not have been applied in the course of consideration of the applicant's application."

With the boy's case now set to go before an admissions appeal tribunal, it is expected that he will ultimately gain a place.

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