Northern Ireland

Strangford Integrated College 'cannot use academic selection'

Strangford Integrated College Image copyright Google MAPS
Image caption The all-ability post-primary school has been open since 1997

The Department of Education (DE) has refused to allow an integrated school in County Down to use academic selection tests to admit some pupils.

Strangford Integrated College is an all-ability post-primary school in Carrowdore with about 700 pupils.

It proposed to select 35% of its future intake based solely on AQE or Post-Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) test results.

However, the permanent secretary of the DE has not approved the school's plans.

Strangford Integrated College has seen its enrolments increase and has been oversubscribed in recent years.

It already admits 35% of year eight pupils to a "grammar stream".

The school uses evidence of academic ability for that, including primary reports and other tests, but not necessarily results from the transfer tests.

It had wanted to select 39 out of 110 year eight pupils in 2019 using results from the AQE transfer test or the GL Assessment test run by the PPTC.

'Oversubscribed'

The school said a number of parents from Catholic backgrounds on the Ards peninsula were sending their children to Our Lady and Saint Patrick's College, Knock, in east Belfast, which is heavily oversubscribed.

It also said the nearest grammar provision in an integrated school was at Lagan College in Belfast, which is also oversubscribed.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The education department's top official said there were significant issues with post-primary provision in North Down and Ards

The college said its plans would offer pupils on the Ards peninsula access to a grammar education in an integrated school.

The school was supported by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE).

However, five other post-primary schools in the area objected to the proposal.

They were Glastry College, Glenlola Collegiate, Movilla High School, Regent House School and St Columbanus' College.

The schools said there were already successful selective schools in the area as well as concerns about the informal "grammar stream" that Strangford was operating.

The Education Authority (EA) and Controlled Schools Support Council (CSSC) also opposed the plans.

Derek Baker, the permanent secretary at the education department, has decided not to allow Strangford College to proceed.

While he said he found some of the evidence of both supporters and opponents "not particularly robust and conclusive", he said there were still significant issues regarding post-primary provision in the North Down and Ards area.

On that basis, he said it would be "premature" to approve the school's plans to formally use academic selection tests.

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