New school entry rules will ban application fees and waiting lists

Minister publishing draft legislation to ensure ‘a fair and balanced school admissions process’

The policies, applying to all 4,000 Irish primary and post-primary schools, would end waiting lists and prohibit the acceptance of applications for admission any sooner than October 1st in the year preceding the planned year of the student’s enrolment.

The policies, applying to all 4,000 Irish primary and post-primary schools, would end waiting lists and prohibit the acceptance of applications for admission any sooner than October 1st in the year preceding the planned year of the student’s enrolment.

Mon, Sep 2, 2013, 11:46


Schools will no longer be allowed to charge application fees, operate waiting lists or interview parents or children for school places under new legislation to control admissions policies.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, who is publishing the draft legislation and regulations this morning, said their goal was to ensure “a fair and balanced school admissions process”.

The policies, applying to all 4,000 Irish primary and post-primary schools, would end waiting lists and prohibit the acceptance of applications for admission any sooner than October 1st in the year preceding the planned year of the student’s enrolment.

It would also provide for a new parent-friendly appeals system should disputes arise, a much simpler process that would avoid cases sometimes reaching the courts for a decision.

The existing methods used to enrol students have often caused controversy, either because a child was blocked from attending a nearby school or refused enrolment without a satisfactory explanation for the parents.

Fee-paying schools in particular have come under fire for running long waiting lists and adopting enrolment policies that are not transparent.

Many fee paying and State schools also apply charges when a student applies for enrolment ranging from €50 to as much as €200. Many parents concerned to ensure their child gets a place may apply to several schools and apply soon after birth. These charges would be banned under the new legislation.
This morning Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said the changes were “fundamental”.

“It has been evolving over the last number of years as a result of the experience that many parents and schools had of the present system which is fairly arbitrary and quite unfair,” he said.

The system, said Mr Quinn, does not work for everybody.

Parents with children who have learning difficulties encounter “soft barriers” when it comes to selecting a school for their child, he said.

“Most parents obviously want the best for their own children and don’t want to make a big fight about it for fear that that would have a negative consequence.”

Mr Quinn also identified waiting lists as an “issue”.

“In some cases the waiting lists are for five, six (or) seven years…that’s going to be eliminated.”

He said the proposals have been published in draft form and extended an invitation to interested parties to attend to the Oireachtas committee.

“I will respond to any reasonable suggestions and any improvements that emerge in the course of that debate,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Mr Quinn said the measures would apply to all schools.

“These schools may be private at one level but the salaries of the teachers are being paid by you, me and the taxpayer.

“The taxpayer who is funding this system is entitled to fairness and openness at point of entry.”


Complaints
There were also complaints that schools were able to apply “soft barriers” to exclude children with special educational needs. This would no longer apply under the planned legislation as schools would be required to publish the criteria they use for enrolment.

For example, a school might prioritise an applicant who is a sibling of an existing or former student. Schools run by the Church of Ireland would be able to prioritise membership of that church as a condition for enrolment.

Prioritise enrolment
Living near a school could also be used to prioritise enrolment but whatever criteria are used these must be published by the school.

Schools that can show they have existing waiting lists will be given a derogation so that these lists can be cleared over a number of years. However, no new waiting lists can be applied should the legislation come into force.

A first-come-first-served policy for enrolment would also be eliminated under the regulations. This can exclude children who move from one part of the country to another or those who arrive in Ireland from abroad. Instead, students would be accepted for enrolment on the basis of the priorities adopted by the school. Once these had been addressed any remaining places could be selected by a lottery, according to the department.

The regulations were meant to ensure that enrolment in all schools in receipt of State funding was transparent, the Minister said earlier.

While he didn’t want to “overly intrude” in the day-to-day operation of schools, the framework “strikes a balance between school autonomy and fairness in our education system and would require schools to provide a better service for parents”, Mr Quinn said.

The draft General Scheme for an Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, 2013 was approved by the Cabinet and will be issued to the Oireachtas Joint committee on Education and Social Protection today to allow a full public discussion, Mr Quinn said.

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