Former Minister backs push for extra P1 places

John O'Dowd, Sinn Fein
John O'Dowd, Sinn Fein

Former Education Minister John O’Dowd says he’ll support St Mary’s Primary School in its fight for a third P1 class, in order to help meet the growing demand for places at Catholic Maintained primary schools in the Banbridge area.

Around 15 children have been turned down for places at St Mary’s Primary this September, sparking complaints from angry parents and a plea from the school’s principal for an additional P1 class.

The Upper Bann MLA, who as Minister approved the St Mary’s new build and cut the first sod on the £5.5m construction project, commented: “I have spoken to the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) who are currently engaged with the school and the department in a bid to secure a solution to shortages of places, not only at St Mary’s but also other Catholic primary schools in the area. If such a solution involves additional accommodation, I will support the school.”

Asked if the former Minister had been aware of the concerns of St Mary’s PS staff and governors that the plans for the new school were based on out of date enrolment figures, a spokesperson for Mr O’Dowd said: “The Leader should check with the Department of Education and CCMS so they can check the official records to establish what concerns the school had raised and how they were dealt with.”

The Sinn Fein man has accused the Education Authority of taking the decision to reduce the number of primary one places at St Mary’s from 87 to just 58 (now 61 following a request for extra places).

However, responding to that allegation, a spokesperson for the Education Authority stressed that “the management of school numbers at Catholic Maintained schools is a matter for CCMS.”

Mr O’Dowd’s party colleague, Cllr Kevin Savage, commented: “A number of parents have been in touch over recent days. Their options are limited. Parents will now be forced to either send their four-year-old child on a long journey to a CCMS school or to completely abandon their desire to educate their child in a faith based school. This is unacceptable. Myself and John O’Dowd will continue to lobby to secure additional places in this school for local children.”

The Leader asked CCMS for a comment on the situation at St Mary’s, but they hadn’t responded at the time of publication.

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