Parents welcome school admissions recommendations

Groups say the system needs to ensure special education needs are met


Parents’ groups have welcomed an Oireachtas committee’s recommendation for a new “independent and transparent appeals process” to oversee schools’ admissions policies.

Áine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents Council - Primary, said planned new legislation aimed at standardising such policies should lead to fewer appeals but “parents do need someone else to go to” when schools fail to adhere either to their own admissions policies or national guidelines.

The draft Admissions to School Bill proposes to remove the current system, known as a section 29 appeal, where parents can appeal decisions to the Department of Education.

School managers have expressed some concerns about creating a new appeals process, arguing that it may lead to more bureaucracy and create false expectations for parents.

However, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection comes down in favour of an independent appeals mechanism, saying “this could possibly be provided for on a regional basis”.

It says: “Consideration should also be given, in the context of such a process, to provide for independent appeals in relation to the refusal of a school to offer a pupil a place in transition year.”

The National Parents Council - Secondary welcomed a separate recommendation for the Department to provide resources “within a statutory timeframe” to any school designated to enrol a student with special educational needs.

“If Ruairi Quinn is going to have this new admissions policy he needs to put in place the systems to ensure special educational needs are met, ” said the organisation’s spokeswoman Lynda O’Shea. She said her local school in Waterford, St Paul’s, was the only school in the city with ASD units to cater for the needs of children with autism but these were now full, with a waiting list of around eight children.

Other recommendations of the committee, published in a report on Wednesday, included:

l The phasing out of first-come-first served waiting lists, which were described as “discrimination against new-comers to an area”;

l Schools should not be permitted to give priority to a student on the grounds that he or she is the son or daughter of a former student or a staff member of the school. However, it says schools should be permitted to give priority to a student who has a sibling who is currently attending the school;

l The integrity of Irish medium schools should be protected while ensuring that no discrimination takes place in relation to admissions;

l Schools’ admission policies should be written in a simple and plain style so that they are accessible to all parents.

Alluding to current discussions about the Catholic Church surrendering patronage, the committee said: “Multiple patronage and ethos as a basis for policy can lead to segregation and inequality in the education system. The objectives of admission policy should be equality and integration.”

Atheist Ireland welcomed this statement in particular, describing it as “a significant and strongly-worded conclusion” which “goes to the heart of the religious discrimination in the Irish education system.

“The Minister should take it seriously, and act on it. It reflects the arguments made by Atheist Ireland to the Committee… Access to a local school without religious discrimination is a human right, and Ireland is in breach of its international obligations by permitting this religious discrimination.

“This religious discrimination disrespects the philosophical convictions of secular parents and their children and treats them as second class citizens,” the atheist campaign group said.