McIlveen comments on 2021 post primary school transfer

Date published: 16 June 2021

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has commented on the 2021 post primary transfer process.

Addressing issues of concern for some pupils and parents the Minister said: “On Saturday 12 June almost 99% of our P7 children were notified that they were placed in a school of their preference and 85% were told they had gained a place at their first preference school.

“For the vast majority of these children this was an exciting time, having discovered that they would be moving to their first preference school, often with many of their primary school friends.

“However, Saturday did not bring good news for every child and as expected and indeed is the case in every year, some children did not get their first preference school, and some were unsuccessful in gaining admission to their listed preferences. 

“Moving to ‘big’ school is a significant event in a child’s life and I fully understand the disappointment felt by some of our children and families at this time.”

The Minister stressed that this is now the time for parents, schools, and education authorities to act promptly to ensure every child can secure a school place as quickly as possible.

She continued: "On Saturday parents of children still to be placed were provided with a list of schools with places still available across Northern Ireland.  Over 2,700 places remained available at that time.  Parents of the majority of children who had not been placed have already submitted applications to these schools and these applications will be considered promptly by schools.  I expect a large number of these children to have secured a school place in the coming days.

“Parents may consider lodging an appeal to an admissions appeal tribunal. I would say to parents that nominating further preferences now does not affect an admissions appeal and if it is successful they can still avail of a place at a preferred school.  Therefore I would encourage them to nominate places for their children as soon as possible.”

The Department of Education can allocate additional places where there is a need and planning for this year’s transfer process commenced in 2019.  While parental preference cannot be modelled, and the absence of entrance tests made this work even more challenging, the Department, working with the education authorities has already secured places for almost 99% of children. 

Minister McIlveen added: “Where there is demand my Department will allocate places and in fact have already done so. By the weekend a total of 828 additional Year 8 places had been allocated to schools across Northern Ireland to cater for oversubscription and this will continue. My Department will continue to consider where places need to be allocated, taking into account the needs of individual children.

The Minister concluded: “With my Department, parents, schools and the Education Authority working together we can ensure every child secures a school place well before the start of term. 

“In my new role as Education Minister I will ensure the needs of children are put at the heart of our decision-making, and facilitating placements for all P7 children is my top priority at this time.”


Notes to editors: 

1. Background information:

At the close of the procedure 280 children were not placed and were immediately given the opportunity to nominate further preferences to schools with year 8 places available – this list of schools was notified to all affected families

There is a process to be followed where a parent nominates a further preference:

  • The parent nominates a school
  • The school consider the application
  • If accepted, the school offers the child a place
  • The parent accepts the place
  • The child is considered placed at that point and EA will remove the child from the list of those yet to be placed

2. Planning for 2021 admissions

In 2019 the department conducted extensive analyses to determine the demographic pressures on the P6 and P7 cohorts who would be transferring to year 8 in September 2020 and 2021.

One variable which cannot be modelled is parental preference – this is the decision that parents make as to which schools they will apply to for their child and is compounded by many factors which cannot be modelled in advance.

To assist parents in choosing a school the Department produce guidance for every parent which includes advice that at least four schools should be nominate (in order of preference) and at least one of these should be a non-grammar school as well as stressing the importance of reading and understanding a school’s admissions criteria to ensure that their child meets these criteria.

Where a school exceeds its admissions number (i.e. is oversubscribed) at the close of the admissions process, it can ask the department to temporarily increase its admissions for one year, allowing the school to admit more children.

The Department produced guidance for schools on the setting of admission criteria, with recommended and not recommended criteria and the then Minister Weir wrote to schools’ Boards of governors to remind them of their duty to have regard to this guidance, ensure their criteria were fair, robust and had the ability to select children for admission acknowledging that the power to set such criteria rest with schools’ Boards of Governors.

The Department recognises the importance to some families of keeping their children together through the education system and recommends ‘sibling currently attending the school’ as a criterion schools may wish to use for admission.  It is, of course, a matter for schools to decide whether, and how, to use this criterion.

While we are aware of cases where parents wish to apply to a different school for a younger sibling and feel that this is unfair; we are also aware of cases where a child has not been successful at gaining admission to the same school as their sibling where this was the family’s wish.

Unfortunately no child can be guaranteed admission to any school and Boards of Governors must take difficult decisions on what criteria to use for admission.  At an oversubscribed school this means that some children will not meet the criteria as well as others.

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