Shocking social divide exposed in Derry’s school system

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Figures released by the Department of Education show a shocking social divide in Derry’s school system.

Only 7.3% of new pupils at Lumen Christi College receive free school meals while St Peter’s High School, less than two miles away, has the highest take-up in Northern Ireland, with 82.6% of their Year 8s using the service.

The average number of recipients on the school roll is 20.2%.

The number of students using the service is used by experts as a measure of the level of access children from low socio-economic backgrounds have to certain schools.

According to additional numbers released by the department, only 17.9% of pupils on free school meals went on to higher education last year.

The number for pupils not eligible for the service was 46.7%.

Martin Bowen, co-principal of St Peter’s, said he’s not shocked by the figures.

He told the ‘Journal’ the figures show “an inherent wrong in the system.”

Mr Bowen criticised ongoing academic selection by the remaining grammar schools, telling the ‘Journal’ of the “direct correlation between high scores on transfer tests and people coming from non-deprived backgrounds.”

He also warned that extra funding for schools in deprived areas is “now drying up.”

According to Brendan Harron of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, it was obvious that, in the case of Lumen Christi, the school’s intake does not reflect the local community.

Mr Harron said “the admissions criteria must militate against people from more deprived backgrounds - it’s the only logical conclusion.”

Yesterday at the time of going to press Lumen Christi College had not responded to our request for a comment on the figures.

Of Derry’s grammar schools, Thornhill and St Columb’s College, at 19.2 and 20.2, are very close to the Northern Irish school roll average.

Meanwhile, Foyle College’s number is only 8.7%

Geraldine Mellon, a co-principal at St Peter’s said that while numbers have always been high at the school, the actual take-up of meals has increased recently.

“Previously, we’d have had to encourage youngsters to use free school meals, to eat their dinner instead of heading out for a sugary bun. This year we noticed all the entitled pupils are taking up the meal offer,” she said.