04 March 2006

'Legal move' over integrated refusal

Belfast Telegraph

Parents may opt for court challenge

By Kathryn Torney
04 March 2006

Parents are considering taking a judicial review against the Education Minister's refusal to provide funding for four integrated schools in Northern Ireland, it emerged today.

Angela Smith announced yesterday that the Government would not provide funding for new schools in Clogher Valley, Moira/Hillsborough and Saintfield/Carryduff and also an existing independent primary school in Ballycastle because of the number of surplus places already in other schools.

Michael Wardlow, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), said he was "utterly stunned and bitterly disappointed" by the decision. Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that 4,000 pupils were turned away from integrated schools in the last five years because of a shortage of places. Mr Wardlow said he has asked for an urgent meeting with Angela Smith to ask her if the Government had changed its policy on integrated schools.

"The fact that this decision was delayed until March means that parents are now under severe pressure to find school places for their children. "We have never had a proposal as strong as the one for Rowallane in Saintfield. "However, we are not ruling anything out and a judicial review of the minister's decision is one possibility being considered by the parents.

We are currently getting legal advice on this. "The Integrated Education Fund may try to find money to fund the schools while we wait for approval but we would need to speak to the minister first to see what the prospects are for funding in the future."

Michelle Brady is treasurer of the Clogher Valley parents' group and had hoped that her three-year-old daughter would attend the new integrated school. She said she felt "very disappointed and let down" by the minister's decision. "Where do we send out children now?" she asked. "We want an integrated education for our children and the minister says she is committed to that but she is not committed to our schools. "I was dumbstruck by her announcement. I never expected her to say no."

June Wilkinson, member of the Rowallane parents' group, criticised the minister's late decision and said she had to decide yesterday what other school should become her P7 daugher's first choice option to attend from this September. "Our plans to bring integrated education to a secondary level in this area are being set aside because of the Government's lack of planning over surplus places," she said. "I am very disappointed."

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