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Justin McNulty MLA has met with senior officials at the Department of Education to raise his concerns about pressures on post-primary school places in South Armagh as well as problems connected with present system of home to school transport.

Mr McNulty explained, "The lack of post-primary school places across South Armagh is a real issue for many families and it must be addressed by the new Education Minister.  In recent years we have seen the school going population grow but the number of available post-primary places available in South Armagh hasn’t been increased at the same rate.

"South Armagh is unique in that parents have a choice between two excellent secondary schools in Bessbrook and Crossmaglen or a range of Grammar Schools in Newry.  Where the problem arises is where the eldest child in a family opts to go to the Grammar School in Newry then the other children in the family can be disadvantaged in relation to seeking places at Bessbrook or Crossmaglen.  Entrance criteria prioritises the eldest in the family or those with a sibling at the school over distance from the school and this can leave many families in real difficulty.

Our LAdy's Grammar School in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Our Lady's Grammar School in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

"I raised the issue with the Education Committee this week, which heard from the Education Minister Peter Weir and followed this up with a meeting with senior Departmental Officials.  Whilst entrance criteria are for each individual school, the Department Is considering a number of options including temporary variations for local schools to allow them to increase their admissions. This is not a simple issue to resolve, however I will continue to work with the families concerned and officials to try and seek a resolution."

School Transport

Speaking on the issue of Home to School Transport Mr McNulty is pressing for any review of the service to take into account special circumstances which face many families locally.

Mr McNulty said, "School Transport is a vital service, especially for those living in rural communities and any review carried out by the Department and Minister must widen the scope rather than reduce the availability.

"Currently school transport or transport assistance is provided for children who live further than two miles from their nearest Primary School and three miles from their nearest Secondary School.  There is an issue around what the Department regards as ‘Nearest Most Suitable School’ and there appears to be more flexibility for local needs.

"I am constantly being contacted by parents who cannot access school transport.  The current criteria are complex and there is little or no room for flexibility for special or local needs.  Any review should not be driven by cutting costs, it should be about increasing access to schools and helping families who are trying to balance work, school and family life."

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