Parents win school places judicial review

The BBC reports that the ruling has been announced in the judicial review of school’s allocation of places noted here. And the ruling would seem to place an onus in future on school authorities to check that the addresses of prospective pupils are genuine. On Tuesday the Education minister faced some questions in the Assembly on this. And in an earlier report the barrister for the Department of Education appeared to be putting that onus firmly on the schools

The barrister for the Western Education and Library Board and the Department of Education said the school was well aware it should not have offered places to pupils when they had exceeded their quota and that the Board’s appeal tribunal could not be expected to know about false addresses.

More from this short report

Mr Justice Weatherup said the school was wrong to take the address of applicants on face value, when the practice of so called grannying was well known.

Adds The question now is will the Department raise the cap on school numbers in this case, which would allow the school to admit the three pupils concerned, or will the cap stay in place forcing the school to check those addresses..

Or rather the important point would appear to be in the quote from the UTV report on Mr Justice Weatherup’s comments about taking the addresses on face value.

Up to now the advice coming down, from the Department and the Education Board, to the schools has been to do just that. This ruling should mean that the Department and the Education Board will need to think again.

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  • Alan

    Had an interesting conversation with board reps about this yesterday. the answer is to request a utility bill, SSA letter or bank statement. Some people may have difficulties with this, but it should cover most. There will be additional cost in terms of return postage.

  • feismother

    All a utility bill proves is that the parents own property, not that the children live there. Or is that OK? I don’t know.

    The grannying thing isn’t just about living across the border in this case as the criteria also favoured some parishes in the town over others.

  • miss fitz

    Alan
    I would contend that none of those would be sufficient. Child benefit is often claimed from the granny’s house, and a utility bill is easily obtained.

    In my work experience, one of the better indicators is a GP letter. Or in this case, perhaps church contributions if the school has a religious context.

  • feismother

    GP letter, Miss Fitz?

    They’re have exactly the same problem with “grannying”!

  • lamh dearg

    How about the hopefully soon to be introduced ID cards, will they have an address? Obviously not for the children but for the parents.

    Absolutely not GP records Miss Fitz, it is estimated that approx 5% of people registered with GPs in border areas are “grannying”.

    Or we could accept that it happens and reach an arrangement with the South to allow it to happen openly with transfer of funds to match. This of course wouldn’t help with feismother’s point that false addresses are often used within the North in order to appear to live within the catchment area of a particular school.

    Presumably if the 11+ goes and we have admission by postcode this will get worse so a robust process of accurately proving where a child lives might be required for all of the North and not just border areas.

    Has it been solved in England?

  • Bob wilson

    ‘Has it been solved in England? ‘
    Yes all the weathly people move to live near the good schools and the rest get the rest!

    Doesnt everyone in NI have to sign when they register on the electoral register. So registers and signatures could be checked. Random visits to these addresses at which those present are asked to give a sample of their signature – that should make it difficult!

  • k

    So someone from Belfast can send their kids to the school. However Derry parents who have been brought up in the town, attended the school themselves, work, shop, socialise and pay their taxes in the town but who bought a house 500 yards over the border a few years ago can’t?
    We need to overcome this partionist mentality. Their kids didn’t get in because the others were more qualified.

  • June 76

    Spot on k. Partition was imposed on the people of Derry and they would never have voted to cut off most of the city’s hinterland under any circumstances.

    Some of these kids could be travelling less than three miles to attend this school and it is only natural for parents to want to send their kids to a school with a family history. Imagine if repartition was to redraw the border through the centre of Belfast and parents in the Stormont area were henceforth unable to send their kids to Inst or Methody

  • cynic

    “Spot on k. Partition was imposed on the people of Derry and they would never have voted to cut off most of the city’s hinterland under any circumstances.”

    Whatever you do there will have to be admission criteria and boundaries of some kind. The border is an irrelevance in many respects. It wouldnt matter if it was Belfast or Enniskillen. Plain and simple this is about people lying to get an advantage. Great example for the kids.

    Sorry to say this, but shouldn’t the grannied children be asked to leave and the parents who lied to send them there sued to recover the costs of their education to date – it’s money that has been stolen from others who were robbed of their chance by the dishonest and selfish.

  • k

    Cynic, Admission criteria? Yes, the criteria select the best students (though I’m against selection personally). Should a better student from Bridgend or Muff (insert joke here) be turned down in favour of a student from further away (Coleraine / Limavady)?
    ‘Money that has been stolen’? If I’m born, work, play, socialise and pay taxes north of the border but currently have a house south (though in Derry terms it’s more likely to be North!) of the border, am I entitled to nothing?

  • ulsterfan

    K
    You are entitled to the benefits granted to any UK citizen but this does not apply to members of your family who live in another jurisdiction ie Republic of Ireland

  • fair_deal

    K

    “So someone from Belfast can send their kids to the school. However Derry parents…”

    Who took the case? It wasn’t someone from Belfast (or Coleraine) it was parents who live in Londonderry. This is a row among parents in the city and its surrounding area over limited local places not all of NI. Exaggeration to try and make a point is unwise.

  • k

    Fair deal, there are a lot of children who travel to the school from much further afield than Muff and Bridgend. Why are the parents not objecting to children from Eglinton and Limavady?

  • slug

    “Why are the parents not objecting to children from Eglinton and Limavady? ”

    Ask the parents.

  • lamh dearg

    “Why are the parents not objecting to children from Eglinton and Limavady? ”

    Presumably because they don’t suspect those parents of lying about their address, although I actually doubt if there are children from Limavady at St Cecilia’s College.

    To try to clarify some of the issues, St Cecilia’s is not a grammar school and so is not aloowed to use academic criterion in selecting pupils so if that is what was meant by “better” in some of the comments it could not be used in this case.

    But what most schools, including St Cecilia’s have as one of their criterion for admission is address, it may be as in distance from the school or it may be living in a particular parish. If a school is oversubscribed this question becomes important.

    This criterion is abused, it can be abused by people living in “a different jurisdiction” or in “the South” (take your pick) but it is also abused (probably to a greater extent) by people who live in Shantallow in Derry but say that they live in Creggan in Derry because that is in the preferred school’s catchment area. I have no doubt that this happens throughout the North anywhere were some schools are oversubscribed. The cross border aspect was simply easier to identify and more in your face by virtue of Donegal registered cars dropping children at the school every morning.

    So yes there is an issue here about the level of entitlements for cross border workers and their families but a more extensive problem of people lying to get what they want and for the poor school governors a very practical problem of how they can be expected to sort out, investigate and police a system which is being abused

  • fair_deal

    k

    “Why are the parents not objecting to children from Eglinton and Limavady?”

    Any evidence for Limavady?
    The school website only mentions the city.
    “Its present enrolment is 930 girls aged between 11-18 drawn from all parts of the city”
    http://www.stceciliascollege.com/?tabindex=7&tabid=371

    Any evidence for Belfast or Coleraine?

  • Seniorhas

    The problem of “Grannying” and cross-border admissions has been going on for all of the 20 odd years I had responsibility for the administration of the Transfer Procedure. Where we found out that wrong addresses had been given then the children involved were removed from the admissions lists if before September or from the school afterwards. I totally agree with lamh dearg and the problems it will give governors of schools when applying their admissions criteria. It is not a cross-border/partionist issue as such since there school places available in the City but it is a problem faced by any school, particularly in the City, which is oversubscribed. It is a growing problem because of the numbers of people choosing to live in Co. Donegal but who want their children to go to schools in the City. (Does anyone know what happens in other border areas in Europe?)

    In this particular case the admissions criteria for the College did not satisfy Article 16 (4) of the 1997 Education Order. As well, the school probably did not apply them correctly. The problems were compounded by the actions of the school in, at first, admitting more children than the admissions number allowed.

    There are a number of more general issues which this case raises. (1) Who are schools built for. In the past they usually served a particular geographical area/community and most children still go to the local school. The problem arises when you want to give parents the ability to express their preferences for the schools they want their children to attend. Parents do not have the absolute right of choice – or should they and are we prepared to pay for the consequences? (2) How should children be selected for admission to oversubscribed schools, particularly when academic criteria cannot be used? The Costello report fudged this one. (3)Should all places be allocated on the basis of a lottery or should that be reserved for determining the children from outside the geographical area/community who are to be admitted? (4)Which children from Co.Donegal, Co Louth are to be admitted, eg those whose parents work in the North? Those who have elder brothers/sisters at the school? (5)What financial arrangements can be agreed?