‘Lisburn pupils being robbed of chance to attend top grammar school’

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The principal of a Co Down grammar school has claimed that transfer pupils in Lisburn are being “disadvantaged” by a lack of transport provision.

The headteacher at Assumption Grammar School, Mr Peter Dobbin, has hit out at Translink over the lack of a bus service between Lisburn and Ballynahinch.

A statement issued by the all-girls school claimed that “students wishing to transfer from primary schools in Lisburn, and indeed right out the country line through Hillsborough and Annahilt, are often robbed of the chance of a place in a top grammar school because there is simply no transport.”

“Traditionally, Lisburn P7 students transfer into very heavily oversubscribed local schools or into equally competitive ones in Belfast. These pupils could well get a place just eight miles, or in some cases less, up the road in Ballynahinch – but parents do not consider it as there is no Translink service from Lisburn,” the statement said.

“Assumption Grammar currently serves pupils from Portaferry, Downpatrick, Castlewellan and lots of other towns and villages in the east as well as Carryduff, Ormeau and Belfast city. It is ludicrous that Lisburn students are not given this option.”

Claiming that the current situation is in “complete contradiction to the draft strategic area planning document produced by the Education Authority”, Mr Dobbin commented: “Every year parents arrive asking how they can get their girls into Assumption and I find it bizarre that there is no bus servicing Ballynahinch schools. Lisburn parents and their children are making horrendous journeys across Belfast every morning and afternoon, just to access the best schools. This could be avoided by establishing a long overdue bus route between Lisburn and Ballynahinch, a mere 20 minutes stress free and traffic free journey every day.”

Mr Dobbin, who stressed that Ballynahinch also offers “excellent secondary provision”, revealed that Translink has challenged headteachers to get the names and addresses of potential pupils from the Lisburn area so that it can assess the need for a bus service.

“Firstly they do not have access to the parents directly and secondly, parents do not have Ballynahinch schools in their mind as a suitable option. The bus must come first,” he said.

The school has started a petition on its Facebook page - www.facebook.com/Assumptionlive - for parents who are interested in the implementation of a new bus service. And Translink representatives will be on hand to get parents’ views at the school’s open day, which will take place on Saturday, January 21 from 10am - 1pm.

Responding to the school’s plea for a new bus service, a Translink spokesperson said: “Translink carries around 55,000 pupils every day on board our services, which equates to around 21 million pupil journeys per year.

“We continue to work closely with the Education Authority and schools on providing any additional routes and services for school transport, based on demand.”