Integrated schools in demand - O’Dowd

Ulidia Integrated College. INCT 21-709-CON
Ulidia Integrated College. INCT 21-709-CON

A decision to increase the enrolment number at Ulidia Integrated College has been queried by East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson.

Last month, Education Minister John O’Dowd announced that a development proposal to raise pupil intake at the Carrickfergus post-primary had been approved.

Querying the decision, Mr Wilson said: “At a time when the education budget was under strain, [the minister] made a decision to increase the capacity in secondary education in Carrickfergus at a time when there were already spare places.”

Suggesting that the decision would require capital expenditure and a need to build new classroom space, the DUP man claimed: “Whilst I wish the pupils and staff at Ulidia well, this issue comes down to a question of how to best spend scarce resources. The fact that over 50 percent of pupils at integrated schools qualify for free transport while less than 16 percent in controlled secondary schools qualify is an indication of the advantage integrated schools have and it will be a big factor in influencing parental choice when deciding which school to send their children to.”

However, a spokesperson for the Education Authority indicated that free transport is assessed on distance from a pupil’s chosen school rather than the school’s status. “The fact that there are less integrated schools overall may mean that there are therefore more pupils entitled to transport assistance in a particular area so it is essentially an issue of catchment area,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, Mr O’Dowd reiterated that the implementation of the proposal is dependent on available funding.

“Taking account of all the issues – conformity with the area plan, the demand for integrated places, the need for additional accommodation, the impact on other local schools - I approved an increase to Ulidia Integrated College,” he said.

“Ulidia serves a wide geographical area; the nearest integrated post-primary is almost ten miles away and is over subscribed.

“Enrolment at the school is very healthy and has increased in recent years, which reflects an obvious demand for integrated education from the community.”