by JULIE-ANN SPENCE
A CRISIS has hit education in Lisburn with parents of young children being unable to find a place for them in local primary schools, the local MP has warned. Schools throughout the city, and in particular in rural areas such as Moira, are heavily oversubscribed and many parents are finding it almost impossible to get a school for their child near to their home.
One local mother said she didn't know where to turn after being told her first SIX choices of school were already full. This week she was left desperately phoning schools in the hope of finding a somewhere to educate her eldest son in September.
However, the Moira child may have to travel a considerable distance to school and his mother is now facing the prospect of having to stop work so that she can take her child to and from school each day.
"I phoned all the surrounding schools that I could physically get him
to but they are all oversubscribed," she explained. "I have been trying
ever since to find a school with vacancies and we are hoping someone
will be able to help us. I don't know where I am
going to find a place."
Even if a place can be found at a school outside the area, the nursery he attends will not be able to transport him and his mother faces the real possibility that she will have to give up her career so that she can drive her son to and from school. "I am going to have to have a childminder or I am going to have to give up work," she continued. "I feel there is no support for working parents."
She has written to the Education Minister, John O'Dowd, asking for a meeting to discuss the situation in the hope that a solution can be found.
If a parent cannot place their child in a school before April 18, the SEELB will provide a list of schools with vacancies and parents will have no choice but to select from the schools listed.
I am a very committed parent and very interested in the education of my children," she continued. "This will have a devastating effect on my family.
"Local schools should provide education for the local population," she added.
Another parent in Moira is facing the same struggle to find a place for his four-year-old daughter.
"We have been very, very anxious about this," he said.
"We feel our daughter may end up having to go to a school miles away. We haven't told her about it yet. How do you tell a four year old they won't be going to school with their friends?"
The father is calling on the Education Minister and the SEELB to make extra places available at local schools. "This will affect the next seven years of her life," he added.
A spokesperson for the South Eastern Education and Library Board confirmed that a number of schools in the Lisburn area are oversubscribed. "While the policy of Open Enrolment enables parents to state their preferences for the schools they wish their children to attend, admissions to schools are, necessarily limited by the physical capacity of their accommodation," she said.
"Pupils can only be admitted to schools where there are places available and these places must be allocated according to each school's published admissions criteria. The Board of Governors of each school is the admissions authority and responsible for the formulation and application of their admissions criteria.
I can confirm that there are a number of schools in the Lisburn City Council area that are oversubscribed but would assure you that there are schools in both the maintained and controlled sector with vacant places. Letters advising parents of their child's PI placement will be issued on April 18.
"Until then no placement is final. If a child has not been placed the parents will be furnished with a list of schools with vacant places and will be asked to nominate a school from this list," she concluded.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson
LAGAN Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson has expressed grave concern about what he says is a "developing crisis" with the primary sector in Lisburn and has sought an urgent meeting with the Education Minister.
"I am deeply concerned by this developing crisis in our local primary school and preschool sectors with many parents facing the prospect of having to send their young children to schools that are many miles from their home," said Mr Donaldson. "I have been contacted by many parents from Lisburn, Moira and other rural locations about the fact that they have been unable to secure a place in a local primary school for their child. This is an unacceptable situation and needs to be tackled head on by the Department of Education and the SEELB.
I warned of this impending problem when the Board and Department were busy closing local rural schools," he continued.
"I stated then that with Lisburn being a significant growth area, they would end up having to build new schools at a higher cost. It is all very well saying that a small number of our local schools have spare places, but if you live in Moira or Dromara and the nearest school with a spare place is in the centre of Lisburn, what sort of option is that for your 4 year old child?
"I have already met with the Chief Executive of the SEELB and will be meeting with the Education Minister to demand that this problem is properly addressed and that additional places are made available to accommodate the children in their local communities."
Lagan Valley MIA Jonathan Craig, who is a member of the Stormont Education Committee, said he was "very concerned" about the shortage of places. "The Education Minister and the Board must be held to account for failing to heed the warnings that have been given about the increase in the local population and their previous decisions to close schools," he said.
"Lisburn is not like other areas. We are a significant growth area and our population is set to increase even further. This requires the provision of more school places where they are most needed and we will be pressing the Minister to act and give Lisburn the priority it deserves."
MLA Brenda Hale shared her colleagues' concerns. "This problem should have been foreseen and the Department and Board should increase enrolment in those schools where there is higher demand due to growing populations.
'As a member of the Education Committee I will be raising this issue in the Assembly and joining my colleagues in meeting the Minister. The Department must honour its commitment to our younger children and ensure that local schools have the capacity to accommodate each child who lives in their locality," she concluded.