“I have noted the Judge’s careful scrutiny of a very complex collection of issues.”

The Department of Education has now supplemented the initial ‘duty to verify’ guidance to Primary Schools with guidance to Pre-Schools and Post-Primary Schools – in response to the court ruling on places at St Cecilia’s in Londonderry (full ruling available here [pdf file]). But the Irish News picks up [subs req] on an interim circular sent to schools this year on transfer arrangements from Primary to Post-Primary Schools. [pdf file] In particular the Minister’s declared “intention to review the current legislation, with a view to changing it” – that is, legislation which prevents schools in Northern Ireland selecting pupils from the Republic of Ireland in preference to pupils resident in Northern Ireland. [Did the minister declare an interest? – Ed]

There has been a delay in issuing the Transfer circular this year because the possibility had been raised of a conflict between Article 16(4) of the 1997 Education Order (for primary and post-primary schools) and Article 32(4) of the 1998 Education Order (for pre-schools) and EU legislation. Articles 16(4) 1997 and Article 32(4) 1998 provide for children resident in the North of Ireland to be given priority in schools’ admissions criteria. Such a priority may be in breach of EU legislation.

The minister continues

Article 16(4) was raised as an issue in the recent Judicial Review involving St Cecilia’s College, Derry. I have noted the Judge’s careful scrutiny of a very complex collection of issues.

The case highlighted that schools in the North are currently required by primary legislation to give priority to children resident in the North. As stated above, such legislation may be in breach of EU legislation. In any event, it would be my intention to review the current legislation, with a view to changing it. In doing so, it is my intention work in close co-operation with my counterpart in the South. [added emphasis]

It is the Department’s policy to maximise the extent to which parents are enabled to send their children to their first school of choice. That principle is at the heart of our enrolment and admissions policies and there is no logical reason as to why families living along the border corridor should be unfairly affected. I shall be talking to all interested parties on this issue.

In light of the circumstances set out above this circular is issued as an interim guide for schools and it will be reviewed on an ongoing basis taking into account a number of relevant issues not least the outcome of my discussions with all interested parties.

CAITRÍONA RUANE MLA