St. Paul’s principal stands over integrity of admissions process

August 3, 2015

The Principal of St. Paul’s High School in Bessbrook has refuted claims made by Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy that the school has not applied its admission criteria correctly in respect of some pupils who will commence the new school term next month.

Mr Kennedy made the claim following an Appeal Tribunal earlier this month, which stated that it was “not satisfied that the school had discharged its duty to verify addresses correctly” and consequently had not applied its admissions criteria correctly.

In the wake of the tribunal, which was taken by a child who failed to secure a place in the school, the Newry and Armagh MLA has called on Education Minister John O’Dowd to order an independent investigation to discern whether St Paul’s admissions “have been manipulated over the past five years” and to review the circumstances surrounding the granting of the temporary variation by the minister in May 2015.

Mr Kennedy had reacted angrily to the recent decision by the Education Department to decline Markethill High School’s request for increased admissions and he was further incensed when St Paul’s was granted a temporary variation to accept an extra 24 pupils this September.

He said his concerns were compounded by the tribunal findings and said the report details “a litany of incorrectly applied admissions criteria at St Paul’s”.

“Even more alarmingly, it details that the school has not been discharging its legal duty to properly verify the correct addresses of applicants and therefore has not applied its admissions criteria accurately,” Mr Kennedy said.

In a statement released to The Examiner, St. Paul’s principal, Mr Jarlath Burns, has stood over the integrity of the school’s admissions process and welcomed an investigation into the matter which he said “would exonerate the school.”

Mr Burns also revealed that he had written to the Department of Education requesting an early meeting to discuss the matter.

The Examiner understands that the school undertook a more rigorous admissions process this year, which went beyond departmental guidance and included writing to all primary school principals to verify the identity of the eldest child in a family.  It is believed that the appeal panel’s failure to request verification of St. Paul’s identification checks – and the fact that the extra check with school Principals was not referred to in the school’s written admission criteria – led to the findings of inaccuracy.

Mr Burns’s full statement read: “The Board of Governors of St. Paul’s High School has been made aware of the findings of the appeal tribunals and has noted its adjudication.  We are surprised that our procedures, which withstand annual challenges through the appeals process, have been deemed unsuitable this year.  We would welcome an investigation, which we feel would exonerate the school and have written to the Department of Education requesting an early meeting to discuss this matter.

“We fully stand over the integrity of our process and are looking forward to welcoming all our new pupils in September.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the Minister was awaiting an initial report from officials on the matter, adding: “He will assess the report and take whatever action he believes appropriate to ensure the failings are corrected and not repeated.”