Northern Ireland

John O'Dowd asked to release border school survey

Pupil writing class
Image caption The DUP's Mervyn Storey said he wanted to know the costs of educating pupils from the Irish Republic

The Stormont minister for education has been challenged to publish the findings of a survey of attitudes to schooling in the border counties.

The research was carried out more than a year ago.

The results were expected to be released at a North-South Ministerial Council meeting in February 2013, but that did not happen.

Education Minister John O'Dowd said the council must first consider the survey and authorise publication.

Figures from the Departments of Education, north and south, show that 275 children from the border counties in the Republic of Ireland travel to secondary schools in Northern Ireland.

However, only a quarter of that number travel from Northern Ireland to schools in the Republic of Ireland.

Cost

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Media captionThe DUP's Mervyn Storey wanted to know the costs of educating pupils from the Irish Republic

Most of those who cross the border are secondary school pupils, but 132 primary school pupils also travel to the north from the south.

The DUP's education spokesman Mervyn Storey said there is a high cost to the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and he wants to know if the Republic of Ireland's government is being paid for teaching the pupils who cross the border for their education.

The Department of Education in Dublin said no money changes hands because EU rules entitle children from one region to free education in another.

Mr Storey said he believed the survey was being suppressed because it did not show the results that Mr O'Dowd was expecting.

"I think he was probably expecting there was a migration of pupils from Northern Ireland to the Republic, the reverse is clearly the case," he said.

The reasons parents gave for travelling to Northern Ireland ranged from geographical convenience to their view that the system in Northern Ireland was better and that children with learning difficulties got more support.

Mr Storey, who is also the chair of the assembly's education committee, said he had no objection to the cross border traffic to schools.

'Free service'

"My question to the minister is, how much is that costing the Northern Ireland taxpayer and how is that being funded by the educational system in the Republic," he said.

"I need to be content the money is being spent in a way which is benefit to children in Northern Ireland and not just a free service for anyone who wants to use it."

Carol Sloan sends her son Gareth on the half hour journey from County Monaghan to a secondary school in Newtownhamilton, County Armagh.

"The Northern Ireland system suits Gareth better, with modular GCSEs which he can do at 16, rather than a one-off Leaving Certificate when he is older," she said.

Sharon Flynn's two daughters could have gone to school in Dundalk, County Louth, but instead they attend St Joseph's High School in Crossmaglen, County Armagh.

'Quality'

"The education system is much better than in the Republic," she said.

"The junior certificate is not worth much so I prefer the British system of GCSEs. I am hoping both girls do A-levels and go on to university," Ms Flynn added.

Breda Sheeran's son Ryan is head boy at St Joseph's.

The 19-year-old suffers from dyslexia.

When he was starting secondary school, his mother was concerned he would not get enough support in the Republic and she chose to travel to Northern Ireland.

There is an added bonus for parents from the Republic of Ireland - their children get textbooks free, which could cost hundreds of euros if their children were to study south of the border.

The parents I spoke to said the quality of the education their children received was more important than any financial considerations.

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