June 2 In the Press

Anger among parents as Minister refuses extra places at Markethill High School

By Eleanor McGillie

MARKETHILL High School, parents and pupils are furious the Education Minister has turned down a request by the school to increase the number of admissions for next year from 93 to 100 forcing the school to turn away 19 children.

James Maxwell, Principal of the school, said a letter and relevant application form were sent to John O’Dowd in April requesting he increase admissions in order to cope with some of the demand for places.

The Minister refused the request but last week granted an extra 24 spaces to St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook, which already has an approved admissions number of 215.

Mr Maxwell said angry parents have been asking questions as to the fairness and equality of his decision but said that anger was compounded when MP Mickey Brady described the Minister’s decision as an example of “Team Sinn Fein delivering for people on the ground”.

Mr Maxwell said: “It’s important to point out that the Governors of Markethill High School have no difficulty in St Paul’s in Bessbrook applying for and getting a temporary variation. But, the decision to grant it, does appear to fly seriously in the face of fairness and equality across the educational sectors.

“Minister O’Dowd’s decision has left a lot of families feeling very angry that their children can’t get to their first school of choice. But for the newly elected MP to make this a political affair has caused even more outrage.

“This is highly regrettable as such decisions need to be made on educational grounds. Comments like his only serve to heighten suspicion and anger. Given the sensitivities of parents at the moment regarding admissions Mr Brady should have known better.

“Markethill High School is a successful school which is currently the third top non-selective Controlled school in Northern Ireland and two places ahead of St Paul’s High School according to this year’s League Tables compiled by the Irish News.”

Mr Maxwell said the Governors of Markethill High School have now written to Mr Brady demanding a formal response as to why Markethill High School is being treated differently.

The school has also requested that Mr Brady arrange an urgent meeting with the Department of Education about a temporary increase in admissions.

Furthermore, the Board have also requested a response from Mr Brady as to what actions he will take to support extra spaces at Markethill High School, and, on a broader level, what support he will give to support a much needed new build school and sixth form.

Ulster Unionist MLA, Danny Kennedy, has written to Minister John O’Dowd requesting an urgent meeting with him.

In his correspondence to the Minister Mr Kennedy said: “I have been contacted by the Principal and Board of Governors of Markethill High School regarding the news that a neighbouring school in the area from the Maintained Sector has been granted a temporary variation by you of 24 places. Questions are being asked and comparisons made regarding the treatment of both schools.

“You will realise how such a decision is being viewed given that your Sinn Fein colleague, Mickey Brady MP MLA described your decision publicly as “team Sinn Fein delivering on the ground”. Such comments do little to dispel fears that schools within the Controlled Sector are being treated with equality.”

Both the school and Mr Kennedy are waiting urgent responses from Mickey Brady MP and Minister John O’Dowd.

But, Markethill High School is recommending that parents of pupils who did not gain access to the school this year, or parents concerned about the future access of their child to Markethill High School, should contact their local elected representative. The school is also urging parents to contact the Education Authority to query why a decision on a permanent increase in admissions for Markethill High School – requested back in November 2013 – has not yet been made.

ENDS:

NOTES TO EDITOR:

  • Markethill High School is the Best School in Northern Ireland for Modern Languages
  • In September 2013, The Minister for Education John O’Dowd congratulates Markethill High School for being one of 11 schools in Northern Ireland which successfully bridges the gap between social disadvantage and educational attainment
  • In October 2013 the ETI report that Markethill High School is a school of ‘very good practice’ and commends all aspects of school life
  • In November 2013 Harper Adams University in Ireland announces a collaboration with Markethill High School to lead the way in education in Northern Ireland by encouraging pupils to take up careers in agriculture
  • For further information contact Eleanor McGillie of MGMPR Ltd on 028 3756 9569| 07709805379| Education PR | Brand Journalism Experts | Brand Journalism UK | Brand Journalism Northern Ireland | PR Agency Northern Ireland | Public Relations Northern Ireland | Public Relations UK
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