17 May 2022

What does 'socially disadvantaged' mean? MLA says some Derry children could miss out on their chosen school because of a 'glaring anomaly' in the system

Mark Durkan calls on Education Authority to review the criteria

Mark H Durkan

Mark H Durkan.

A Derry politician has questioned the use of 'socially disadvantaged' criteria when it comes to school admissions.

SDLP social justice spokesperson Mark H Durkan has raised concerns around what he described as 'an oversight' in the Education Authority’s ‘socially disadvantaged’ criteria.

Mr Durkan said it has arisen as a result of the 'partial migration' of claimants to Universal Credit and could potentially hamper admission applications for parents on legacy benefits.

The Foyle MLA said: “A glaring anomaly has come to my attention in relation to the Education Authority’s criteria of what constitutes a ‘Socially Disadvantaged’ family.

“As a result, I’m concerned it will adversely impact many families here in their ability to secure a school place for their child.

“Every year this process throws up problems and many families feel unfairly penalised because of their circumstances, I would argue that a full review of this entire system is needed.

“However, in this particular instance I have encountered a number of cases within my constituency office where issues have been flagged with the ‘social disadvantage’ criteria.

“Universal Credit is now the criteria for priority need however as this benefit encompasses 6 legacy benefits: JSA, ESA, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Income Support, it means that recipients who would normally qualify no longer do.

“Considering that UC can be paid for a range of reasons it is reasonable to assume that some UC claimants may be financially better off than someone in receipt legacy benefits i.e. Tax Credits.”

Mr Durkan claimed the current criteria is 'therefore not a true measure of social disadvantage'.

“Some parents through no fault of their own, have subsequently been unable to submit a stamped benefit verification form to avail of priority need for school admissions.”

He continued: “I have flagged this issue with both the Education Minister and the Communities Minister to put measures in place to ensure a fair process for admissions so that parents on legacy benefits are not unfairly penalised.

“As this matter has not been resolved before the admissions deadline, I would ask that Schools’ Board of Governors take this oversight into consideration where possible.”

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