Cross border pupils give enrolment boost to under threat schools

A TOTAL of five schools in the Dungannon District are admitting pupils from the Republic of Ireland thus boosting their enrolment figures and staving off possible closure.

Currently Aughnacloy Primary School, St Mary’s Primary School Aughnacloy, St Ciaran’s High School Ballygawley, The Royal School Dungannon, and Aughnacloy High School have pupils who are resident in the South of Ireland.

Of the five, the following have been red-flagged by the Department of Education in terms of their low enrolments - Aughnacloy High School, St Mary’s Primary School Aughnacloy, and Dungannon Royal School.

Greater cross-border co-operation could become a key part of their survival strategy with moves by the Education Minister John O’Dowd to explore the possibility of further co-operation between the two jurisdictions.

Currently 402 young people who live in the South attend post-primary schools here and all applicants for the 2011/12 school year were accepted for places.

Education Minister John O’Dowd revealed the extent of cross-border traffic in the Northern Ireland Assembly this week.

“Legislation currently requires all schools in the north to give priority in admissions to children resident in the north”, he said.

“Any northern school can accept a child from the south, but only after it has first considered all applications from northern children and it has places available.

“In the south, there is no legal requirement for a school to prioritise southern over northern residents, so all schools can accept northern children in line with their admissions criteria.”

Last month, it was revealed that 50,000 families are to be surveyed on cross-border education provision. The cross-border education survey is expected to be conducted in September and October by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Department of Education and Skills in Dublin.

Up to 50,000 families living on both sides of the border will be asked to take part. Mr O’Dowd has also sought legal advice on the current legislation, which gives priority admission to children living in Northern Ireland

The DUP’s education spokesperson, Mervyn Storey, has criticised the situation,

He said the education minister needed “to remember that his first priority is educating the children of Northern Ireland”.