Anger as school place request turned down

Markethill High School.
Markethill High School.

A political row of words has broken out after a request by Markethill High School to admit more pupils was turned down.

The school had requested an increase in the number of admissions for next year from 93 to 100.

Principal James Maxwell said the Minister’s refusal had forced the school to turn away 19 children.

He said an extra 24 spaces had been granted to St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook, prompting angry parents to questions the fairness and equality of the decision.

However, Education Minister John O’Dowd has refuted allegations that he acted in a biased manner.

Mr Maxwell said the 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”.

In a debate at Stormont this week, UUP MLA Danny Kennedy questioned Mr O’Dowd’s decision.

Referring to the comments made by Mr Brady, Mr Kennedy said, “I believe that such comments are not only disgraceful in themselves but give rise to the very deep suspicion felt by people and parents in my community that there is more than a whiff of party politics being played out here - deeply sectarian and offensive politics, too.”

In a further twist, Mr Maxwell questioned a response given by the Minister of Education’s officials on the Q Radio website to the reason for the St Paul’s decision.

The official statement said, “The temporary variation request from St Paul’s Bessbrook was approved because the majority of the children within the request lived closer to St Paul’s.

“Through their ranked order, those who did not live closer to St Paul’s would have blocked children who did live closer. Therefore the Minister accepted the need for all 24 extra places to be allocated to attend.

“The temporary variation request from Markethill High School was refused because all of the children within the request lived closer to other schools that still had places available,” she said.

Said Mr Maxwell, “Markethill High school wishes to know if this represents an ‘overruling’ of published admissions criteria by the Minister, whilst other schools have to abide and adhere to their published criteria?

“We also wish to know what future implications this decision has for the Appeals Tribunals.”

The school has submitted a series of six “urgent” questions to MP Mickey Brady and says it is awaiting a response.