Devil in the detail of Quinn’s Bill
Plenty in draft that could cause headaches for boards of management
Any school with available places will, under this proposal, have to take all-comers.
There was a measured response to yesterday’s draft proposals for a Bill to bring transparency to schools’ admissions policies. While no one could publicly argue with the Bill’s intent to make our schools more egalitarian, there is plenty in the draft that could cause headaches for boards of management when the legislation is finally enacted.
Much like the Education Act it seeks to alter, this is a Bill that will translate into more paperwork for schools and some knotty problems for smaller schools and those in the fee-paying sector.
It’s a lengthy document that will have implications not just for those 300-odd students and their parents who challenge the system through the section 29 appeal process each year, but for every oversubscribed school in the country that has managed their problems using waiting lists.
The Minister has suggested that students on waiting lists may be allowed to work their way through the system before the lists are closed down, up to a period of five years. How these schools will manage demand when the first-come-first serve system is dismantled is not clear.
The suggestion that boards of management handle their own problems when it comes to parental challenges on admission could cause some discomfort in small communities where parents and boards of management members live in close quarters.
The practice of schools taking booking deposits from would-be applicants used to be the preserve of secondary schools but more recently primary schools have got in on the game. They are unpopular but serve a function: to discourage multiple applications to different schools. Once this deterrent is removed, how will schools manage numbers in the closing weeks of the summer as they wait to find out who will actually turn up at the school gate?
Management headaches notwithstanding, would this Bill, if enacted as it stands, actually make our schools more democratic places?
For students with special education needs, the prospects are good. Any school with available places will, under this proposal, have to take all-comers. That should eradicate the practice of sending children down the road to the school “with more appropriate resources”.
Patron bodies and management groups say this practice is exaggerated, but parenting and disability groups claim otherwise.
Schools that are oversubscribed will not be allowed to discriminate on the grounds of “the student having a disability or special educational need”, so where parents feel they have been turned away on those grounds, the rules will be clear.
For groups other than those with special needs, however, there is less to applaud. While everything from sexual orientation to religious belief is listed among the grounds upon which schools cannot discriminate, there remains in place an exemption for religious-run organisations from basic equality criteria, if they can demonstrate a threat to their ethos. As long as that remains in place in our Equal Status Act (2000), it undermines the spirit of yesterday’s draft scheme.