On 24 November 2021, the High Court delivered its judgement in a case where some contents of a post-primary school’s admissions criteria for transfer 2021 were challenged by an applicant. In its judgement, the court found that a criterion prioritising boys whose father/guardian attended the school — I should clarify that it is an all-boys' school — was found to be unlawful in that it represented unjustified indirect discrimination contrary to article 18 of the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.
The drawing up of admissions criteria is a matter for individual boards of governors, and my Department cannot compel schools to use specific criteria. My Department can, however, issue guidance to schools on the post-primary admissions process that schools must, by law, have regard to. In the most recent guidance, which issued in November 2021, my Department specifies the criteria that, it is recommended, schools should and should not use. One type of criterion that, it is recommended, schools should not use is any familial criterion beyond that of a sibling currently attending the school. My Department has now written to all post-primary schools to draw to their attention the court's judgement and to advise that such an admissions criterion or any similar criterion should not be used. Given the timing of the judgement, my Department extended the deadline for submission of admissions criteria by post-primary schools to allow boards of governors to review their draft admissions criteria for transfer 2022 if necessary.