Loreto ‘unique’, says principal in bus pass row

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A principal says parents are choosing to send their children to Loreto College in Coleraine because of its excellent reputation - and not because pupils are able to get free bus passes.

Michael James was responding to the issue of free travel for pupils after principal of St Mary’s, Mary McCloskey, had 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.

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

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

Loreto headmaster, 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.

In a statement, he said: “The issue of transport is decided by the Department of Education and has remained unchanged for the last number of years. Our move to becoming non-selective did not change this. When our governors made the decision to move away from academic selection they also made the decision to remain as a Voluntary Grammar, which allows us to have greater control over our budget and how we provide our curriculum. As such we have a distinctive curriculum, a welcoming ethos and an educational experience that is attractive to a great number of parents. We believe our ethos is unique, in having an unashamedly academic focus but combining this with an attitude of diversity and equality, opening our curricular and extra-curricular excellence to all students. Parental choice is one of the basic precepts of our education system and we are very happy that parents choose to send their children to us to avail of the excellent educational experience we provide.

“Parents make their decision considering the ethos of the school, the curriculum on offer, the pastoral care and extra curricular provision and in my experience the issue of transport is not usually the defining or deciding factor.”