Northern Ireland

St Mary's, Limavady, in plea to stop free school bus passes

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Media captionThe principal of St Mary's, Mary McCloskey, has written to the education minister

A County Londonderry secondary school has asked MLAs to stop free bus passes that allow pupils living in its area to attend a grammar school 14 miles away.

St Mary's in Limavady has objected to Loreto College in Coleraine still being treated as a grammar school.

This is despite Loreto College no longer using academic selection.

If a child gets a place in a school that is further than three miles away they can get a bus pass, as long as it is the closest school of its type.

However, they cannot get a free pass if there is a similar school within walking distance of three miles.

The principal of St Mary's, Mary McCloskey, has written to Education Minister John O'Dowd and the Stormont education committee.

She argued that as Loreto, like St Mary's, is now a Catholic non-selective school, pupils from Limavady should no longer be given free bus passes to attend Loreto.

Image caption Loreto College is still a grammar school despite no longer using academic selection

It is understood Loreto College has discussed changing its status but decided against it and will remain a grammar school.

Satisfied

The official view is that being a grammar school does not depend on academic selection but only on its management and funding structure.

The Catholic bishops have been encouraging grammar schools to abandon academic selection but so far Loreto is the only one to have done so, two years ago.

The principal of Loreto, Michael James, said the school is still designated as a grammar school and the criteria for free school transport is a matter for the education boards.

Mrs McCloskey said she has had a reply from the education minister detailing the policy, and she is now satisfied with the explanation.

The chief executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, Jim Clarke, said the transport policy is due for review.

He said he has sympathy for any school that sees pupils being bussed past its door to leave the area when the school they are passing offers as good an education as anywhere else.