Parents back school’s plea for third 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.

Disgruntled parents whose children have been denied places at St Mary’s Primary School in Banbridge have backed the school’s plea for a third P1 class.

Following last week’s revelations about the serious oversubscription problem in Catholic Maintained primary schools in the Banbridge area, the Leader spoke to two local women whose four-year-old daughters have been denied places at St Mary’s come September, despite it being their nearest school.

The school’s new £5.5m building is due to open in September, but with only two P1 classes, it isn’t big enough to meet the growing demand for places in the area.

Speaking to the Leader last week, principal Des O’Hagan revealed that this year the school can offer just 61 P1 places, but had 72 first preference applications, as well as a number of second preference applications.

He has called on the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the Department of Education to give him a third P1 class so that he can facilitate all those wanting places at the school.

That plea has been backed by local parents who are fighting to ensure their children can attend St Mary’s - their first choice school.

Neither of the parents who spoke to the Leader wanted to be named as both have lodged appeals against the decision to deny their daughters P1 places at St Mary’s.

One of the women, who has been told her daughter will have to travel to school in Loughbrickland come September, commented: “Due to my faith this [St Mary’s] is the school I wanted my daughter to go to. I passed three of the criteria - we live in the catchment area, I’m a past pupil, it’s our closest Catholic Maintained school - and I thought she would have a good chance of getting in. I’m really disappointed and I’ll be appealing the decision.”

Stating that she is “one hundred per cent behind the principal” in his call for an additional P1 class at St Mary’s Primary, the woman added: “St Francis’ is a very good school, but that is not my preference. I want to send my daughter to the school where I was educated, and well educated. I’m just hoping we’ll win our case in the end, but in the meantime I’ve got plenty of stress ahead.”

The other disgruntled parent revealed that her daughter has yet to be allocated a place at any primary school after being turned down by St Mary’s - the school they “live right beside”.

The woman, who described the situation as “a nightmare”, commented: “I was raised Catholic, so was her father. We wished for her to be raised Catholic as well. We want her to get her sacraments, confession, communion, confirmation - do what any other Catholic child does at school. St Mary’s is the only Catholic Maintained school in the town and that’s why I want her to go there.”

Stressing that she and other parents are backing the St Mary’s principal in his fight for more P1 places, she added: “This problem is going to get worse every year. If they don’t get the extra classroom this year, they’re going to need extra classrooms next year, the following year or whatever. They are going to have to start throwing mobiles up.

“I’ve heard that nursery places are oversubscribed this year and a lot of kids were turned down for that, so when that comes to primary one next year parents are going to have trouble getting their children into a P1 class anywhere.”

Following the publication of last week’s story, and in response to complaints from parents, Canon Liam Stevenson, Chairman of the school’s board of governors, met with the head of CCMS to make the case for creating additional P1 places at St Mary’s.

The school’s push for an additional P1 class is now with CCMS, and Mr O’Hagan said he’s “very hopeful of a positive outcome.”

“If CCMS put forward the right argument I can’t see the department being able to turn us down,” he commented.

The Leader asked CCMS for comment on the situation at St Mary’s PS. However, a spokesperson for the organisation simply told us to contact the school. Despite another request for a statement, none had been issued by CCMS at the time of publication.

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