St Mary’s Primary School, Banbridge has been given the green light to increase its P1 intake from September.
The move has been welcomed by local parents whose children had been turned down for places at the school due to the oversubscription problem in the area.
Last month The Leader highlighted how more than a dozen local children had missed out on places at St Mary’s - their first choice school - after it received more than 70 first preference applications for just 61 spaces.
But following pleas from school staff, governors and parents to the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the Department of Education for a third P1 class, the school has been given the go-ahead to take in more new starts come September, meaning all those who want a place will now get one.
However, despite getting the green light to increase enrolment, it still isn’t clear if the school will be given an extra classroom to enable it to cater for the additional pupils.
The school has been operating from temporary accommodation at St Patrick’s College while work is completed on its £5.5 million new build project.
The new St Mary’s Primary School is due to open in September, but with only two P1 classrooms, it isn’t big enough for the growing number of pupils.
Now the school has been granted permission to increase its pupil intake, there have been suggestions that some classes could remain at the St Patrick’s College site. But it’s understood that’s not an option favoured by staff at St Mary’s Primary, who are keen that all classes should take place at the new school site.
Commenting on the current situation, St Mary’s principal Des O’Hagan said: “We have got the go-ahead to extend our intake, up to 79 or thereabouts, but we are awaiting a letter from CCMS and are hoping they will support our request for an additional classroom.”
While the final details regarding classroom provision are still to be ironed out, local parents are delighted that the school has been allowed to increase its P1 intake.
One parent, whose daughter was without a P1 place after being turned down by St Mary’s, said she’s “absolutely over the moon” that she will now be able to go to her chosen school after all.
The woman, who didn’t want to be named, said: “We don’t know exactly how it’s going to work yet, but all we know is that they’ve all got in, which is great.
“I think they all got places, that’s 15 or 16 kids in total, so everyone is delighted. We’re absolutely over the moon and totally excited.”
Another local mum, whose four-year-old daughter was offered a place in a school several miles outside Banbridge, described the decision to increase the number of P1 places at St Mary’s as “fantastic news”.
“We’re not sure what the situation is yet, but we got the letter to say she’s in, so we’re over the moon. It means no appeals, no stress, we’re absolutely delighted,” she said.
“We’re just glad they finally saw sense and approved the third class. It’s fabulous for the town as all the children can stay together and go to school in their home town.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “Work on the new build school for St Mary’s Primary School, Banbridge is nearing completion and this will provide a new 14 class primary school, single nursery unit and two MLD (moderate learning difficulty) classrooms. The size of the school was confirmed by the School Planning Authority (CCMS) as consistent with its broader primary school plans for the area.
“The Department is aware that the school is currently operating with a large number of pupils above its approved enrolment as a result of previous temporary variations. Steps need to be taken by the School Planning Authority to manage the pupil number back to the approved enrolment within a reasonable timeframe, to avoid any longer term accommodation pressures.”