Stress for parents over school places

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THE criteria used by primary schools to select pupils has been described as unfair by a local parent.

The deadline for applications for primary school places was last Wednesday, while nursery school applications had to be submitted the week before.

Primary school places are readily available, but the importance attached to sending your child to the “right” school means many parents are left heartbroken when they are told their offspring don’t meet the entry criteria for their first preference school.

Pre-school education is even more of a minefield with nursery places limited and many parents having to fork out to get the children a place in other pre-school groups.

The ‘MAIL’ spoke to several parents and a local principal about the process of securing a school place.

One Lurgan mum said: “I think the primary school criteria is totally unfair. For a start if your child is an only child you’re at a disadvantage.

“If both parents are out earning a living you’re at a disadvantage. It’s a kick in the teeth for parents who work hard to give their child the best start in life.”

The Board of Governors of schools choose their own entry criteria for nursery and primary intake based on guidelines from the board which encourages schools to give priority to children who come from socially disadvantaged families.

Beyond this, schools can set their own entry criteria like the distance the family live from the school, whether there are siblings at school, etc.

Another local parent said: “I’ve heard lots of people complaining about the criteria for getting children into their chosen school.

“I’m not saying the criteria is right, but what is the alternative? If 100 children apply for the same school and there’s only 50 places then the only fair way to choose which ones get in is to have entry criteria.”

One parent told the ‘MAIL’ of their concerns regarding pre-school education: “It’s almost unheard of now for your child to go straight into P1 without having had at least a year’s pre-school experience,” he said.

“You feel like you’re cheating your child if you don’t get them a pre-school place, but for a lot of families this means paying to send your child to a pre-school group as free nursery places are few and far between and priority is given to children whose parents are on benefits.

“If you choose not to send your child to nursery school then you face an uphill battle when it comes to getting them into their first, or even second or third, choice primary schools because other children have ‘got their foot in the door’ because they went to nursery there.”

One local principal said: “It can be a very disappointing time for parents. The applications normally outweigh the places. This has been the case for the past five or six years.

“There’s enough primary places to go round but not all parents will get their first preference.”

“There’s a problem with lack of nursery places but in fairness they are trying to continue to increase them.”