Parents whose children were refused admission to their first-choice primary school in West Belfast have slammed the selection process. Last week scores of parents were left disappointed when they discovered their children had not been selected for a place at their local parish school.
The past week has seen them scrambling across the district to visit other schools in a bid to secure entry for the four year-olds who have been “forgotten”.
Geraldine Rea is just one of the parents who has been thrust into a world of angst, stress and disbelief over the past seven days. The Lagmore mother told the Andersonstown News her daughter, Maria Fusco, has been let down by a system that isn’t fit for purpose.
“They are building and building houses up here in Lagmore but they aren’t building the schools to accommodate the population,” she said.
“My daughter Maria goes to Christ the Redeemer Nursery, her older sister just left Christ the Redeemer Primary to go to St Dominic’s, we have strong links to the school, we have been part of the school community since it was mobiles and were involved in all aspects of fundraising for the new school.
“Last week I found out Maria did not get into the primary school because the current criteria say preference is giving to children whose siblings are ‘presently attending the school’. You can imagine how infuriating it was for us to read that.”
The second admission criterion fell to distance, which saw scores more children secure a place at the school ahead of young Maria.
“The second criteria focused on distance to decide who gets in next,” said Geraldine. “Maria missed out because other people live closer to the school. How is my child’s distance from the school more important than her having attended the nursery? And it isnt just Maria, I understand about three children from the nursery are not getting into the primary school, these children are just forgotten about.
“The whole selection criteria is messed up, my family’s lives have been centred around this school for over a decade and that counts for nothing?”
While Geraldine has appealed the decision, she must in the meantime focus on securing Maria a place at another school somewhere outside Lagmore.
“My two-year-old is attending Christ the Redeeemer pre-school, now I will have the worry of getting both children to school on time but in entirely different estates.
“Nobody thinks about these things, and nobody thinks about the child involved. Maria is just four, she is shy, it took her a while to get used to the nursery and settle in, now she has to do it all again in primary when most of her class is going to Christ the Redeemer. Why does nobody think how this can affect a child’s development?”
The SDLP’s Tim Attwood says he has been inundated with calls from anxious parents who found themseles in the same situation as Geraldine.
“The birthrate figures are clearly larger that in previous years,” he said. “In the past there has been a concern about nursery places but now children are not getting into their preferred primary schools and that’s not acceptable. The Deparment of Education and the library boards need to take stock of what is happening here across West Belfast. In Lagmore the population is always growing, on the Glen Road we have the new Bass brewery development opening soon and this is going to impact on the schools, this needs to be taken on board.”
Fr Martin Graham, Chair of the Board of Governors of Christ the Redeemer Primary School, said the school is unable to meet the growing demand.
“The Principal and Board of Governors can totally understand the frustration and disappointment experienced by parents who have been unable to obtain a place for their children in Christ the Redeemer Primary School,” he said.
“The school was heavily oversubscribed this year and as a result had to use sub-criteria involving distance from the school.
“The Board of Governors set the criteria, which were subsequently approved by the South Eastern Education and Library Board and the Department of Education Northern Ireland. These criteria were rigorously applied.
“It has been obvious for some time that due to the increasing population within the Greater Lagmore area that the school capacity available would be unable to meet the growing demand.
“The school only has 90 places available and we had 117 applications.”