Not enough places in area’s Catholic schools: Principal makes plea for additional P1 class

Mr Des O'Hagan, principal of St Mary's Primary School, Banbridge.
Mr Des O'Hagan, principal of St Mary's Primary School, Banbridge.

The principal of a local primary school has urged the Department of Education to give him a third P1 class in order to help alleviate the oversubscription problem in the Banbridge area.

Mr Des O’Hagan, headmaster at St Mary’s Primary School, said his and other Catholic primary schools in the local area are “significantly oversubscribed”.

And despite a £5.5 million investment in a new school building, due to open this September, St Mary’s still won’t be able to meet the growing demand for places.

This year the school can officially offer just 58 P1 places, but had 72 first preference applications, as well as a number of second preference applications.

The school, which is currently operating from a temporary base at St Patrick’s College, has been granted permission to take in some additional children, meaning it can enrol 61 P1 pupils come September, but a previous request for a third P1 class was turned down.

The Education Authority’s ‘Providing Pathways: Strategic Area Plan for School Provision 2017 - 2020’ recognises that there is a serious oversubscription problem in Catholic Maintained primary schools in the Banbridge area.

The document, published last week, says “ensuring school places are located as required for Catholic Maintained provision” is a “key issue” and adds that the “managing authority is to develop options to deal with oversubscription for Catholic Maintained education in the area”.

Any actions resulting from the plan are unlikely to be in place in time to resolve problems being experienced by children, parents and schools this year, and Mr O’Hagan says the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the Department of Education need to act now in order to address the matter.

Come September, a number of local P1 pupils will have to travel out of Banbridge each day in order to attend what was their third or fourth choice school, and some parents have claimed that their children are yet to be allocated a primary school place at all as many local Controlled Schools are also operating at or near full capacity.

Commenting on the extent of the current problem, Mr O’Hagan said: “Basically it means you will have Catholic children in this area who will not be able to attend a Catholic school. That’s basically the bottom line.”

While the new St Mary’s PS building will provide impressive, modern facilities for the school’s more than 400 pupils, the headmaster says it isn’t big enough to meet the growing demand for primary school places in the local area.

The school’s governors have been in contact with CCMS officials in a bid to discuss ways of alleviating the current problems, but Mr O’Hagan stressed that action needs to be taken by the relevant authorities now.

“The department’s policy is to fill spaces in other schools in the local area, and rightly so, that’s fine. But if there isn’t any space in the local schools where do people go?,” he said.

“I’d be quite happy if the Department of Education turned round and said ‘we’ll give you a third P1 class’, whether that be an extra classroom built on or a mobile, no problem, I’ll open three P1 classes in September to facilitate all the children that need to be facilitated. But that decision is not for me or my board of governors, it has to be made by CCMS and the Department of Education,” Mr O’Hagan added.

The Leader contacted CCMS and the Department of Education about the oversubscription problem in the Banbridge area. Neither was able to provide a comment on the matter in time for publication.