Admissions crisis: Pleas for additional places at local schools

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Pleas have been made to the Department of Education (DoE) to increase admission numbers at several local schools.

The appeal has been made by political representatives and school principals on behalf of anxious parents whose children haven’t been able to secure a place at their chosen post-primary school due to oversubscription.

Mr Colin Millar, principal of Fort Hill Integrated College.

Mr Colin Millar, principal of Fort Hill Integrated College.

Several schools in Lisburn and neighbouring areas have had to turn away young people seeking places in Year 8 this September, leaving many parents facing uncertainty about the future of their children’s education.

Jim Sheerin, principal of Lisnagarvey High School, revealed that 153 young people had applied for just 100 places at the school this year.

“Our enrolment figure has gone up from 280 to 560 in the past 10 years. Lisnagarvey High School has been oversubscribed for the past three years and this year has been the worst year ever. We have had 143 applications, plus 10 SEN (special educational needs) applications, for just 100 places,” he told the Ulster Star.

“Forty-three children didn’t get in, including 19 who had put the school as their first choice, so it’s quite a horrendous number.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP

Acknowledging that the situation is “very frustrating for parents”, Mr Sheerin continued: “We have been writing to the Department of Education for the past eight years about the need for an increased admission number.

“We have written to them again to ask for a temporary increase in our enrolment number, but it just depends whether or not they listen to us.”

It’s a similar situation at Fort Hill Integrated College, where Principal Colin Millar has also been forced to turn away “significant numbers” of prospective new pupils.

“We are significantly oversubscribed this year. Our enrolment figure for Year 8 pupils is 160, but there are dozens of students who listed us as a preference that we have had to decline,” he explained.

Robbie Butler MLA

Robbie Butler MLA

Mr Millar said he could ask the department for a “temporary variation” to increase the school’s admission number, but stressed he wouldn’t have the financial resources to do so, adding that the school’s physical infrastructure is “already at capacity.”

With the number of children seeking post-primary places expected to increase further in the coming years, Mr Millar is hopeful that longer-term plans can be brought forward to increase the school’s capacity.

Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he has been contacted by “many anxious parents” who have been unable to secure places for their children at Lisnagarvey High School and Dromore High School.

“Both schools are over subscribed for the forthcoming school year and I am presently supporting an application to the Department of Education for a temporary increase to the enrolment to enable more of the young people to gain a place at their school of choice. I hope the department will respond positively,” he said.

“We will also be providing support and advice to individual parents who wish to appeal the decision not to grant a place to their child. It is essential that all local children are accommodated in local schools.”

The DUP man added: “We are very fortunate to have such popular and successful schools in the Lagan Valley area and with the steady growth in population, it is vital that the Education Authority reviews the availability of post-primary places in our locality.

“The Area Planning process affords the opportunity to assess the needs of our school population and to provide the places that are required going forward.

“I met recently with the Area Planning team at the Education Authority to discuss the need to review both primary school and secondary school provision in the Lagan Valley area and will continue to raise these issues with the EA and the Department of Education.”

Describing the current situation as “a crisis for the families involved”, Lagan Valley UUP MLA Robbie Butler said he has written to the Secretary of State and the Department of Education calling for action to address the oversubscription problem.

“The provision of secondary education in the greater Lisburn area is not growing in line with the significant demographic increase and subsequent increase in demand for school places,” he said.

“As far as I am aware, the only school in the immediate Lisburn area which is not already over­subscribed for new admissions is Laurelhill Community College. Outside of this, the only current options for parents is to send their children to Lurgan or Belfast-based secondary schools and while this might be manageable in a few cases, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the number of parents in this situation is at an all-time high.

“This is totally unacceptable and requires a radical solution given the severe distress which it is causing parents, relatives and the children themselves. We have a moral obligation as adults to ensure that duty of care is provided for these children. As the system currently stands, this is failing badly and needs to be radically addressed.”

Responding, a DoE spokesperson stressed that the department “will continue to liaise with the Education Authority to ensure each child has access to a place as soon as possible.”

“There are always a number of unplaced children at the end of the post-primary admissions process, however, this year there are higher than usual numbers. Every year the department approves additional places to deal with preferences for places in particular areas. Before approving additional places we need to look at information on available places in schools in the sector parents have expressed a preference for and pupil travel distances and times.

“So far, this year we have approved additional places for 30 post primary schools and, if needed, the department will approve further places to ensure every child has access to a school place.

“It is important that parents continue to engage with the Education Authority and identify additional preferences.

“We appreciate the uncertainty and disappointment for those impacted and want to reassure pupils and parents that at the end of this process all children will have access to a school place,” the spokesperson said.