Postcode inequality: ‘Surely kids in Dublin 8 deserve the same access to education as those in Blackrock?’

Many parents feel left behind with no access to multidenominational secondary schools. It’s a very different story in more affluent areas

Despite living in the heart of the capital, Jane Toolan is one of many parents in the Inchicore and wider Dublin 8 area struggling to find a school place for her daughter next September. She spends much time frantically Google Mapping different routes to the few non-religious secondary schools within commuting distance.

“We have a great community,” she says. “When we bought our house 13 years ago, everyone told us there were very few schools in Dublin 8. We were upbeat: surely the underprovision would be addressed quickly? Thirteen years later, with a kid in sixth class, we find ourselves questioning our original decision to buy here.

“We feel left behind and overlooked because of our postcode. Do the kids in Dublin 8 not deserve the same access to education as the children in Blackrock?”

While Toolan sent her daughter to a primary Gaelscoil with a religious patron, she is not willing to do so for the next stage of her daughter’s schooling – even if it means a long commute across the city.


Sandymount Park Educate Together is an hour away by public transport, but the bus is often full. Harold’s Cross Educate Together is about 45 minutes away, but she is not in the catchment area and is at the bottom of the waiting lists. Then there’s Clogher Road Educate Together in Dublin 12, but this is 50-plus minutes by bus, and the family is outside the catchment area there too. Gaelcholáiste an Phiarsaigh in Rathfarnham, a multidenominational school, is a 70-minute journey using two buses.

“Having walked to primary school in 10 minutes for the last decade, the next chapter is going to be daunting, stressful and tiring. I feel sorry for my kids,” she says.

“We shouldn’t have to move [house] to access non-denominational education... We feel trapped. We are trapped: trapped by the Department of Education’s modelling system for future school planning.”

Toolan is not alone in wanting better access to a multidenominational school. The latest figures from last year’s census show that the percentage of non-Catholics living in Dublin 8 is 62 per cent, double the national average.

“The demographics of the area are not reflected by the schooling options,” says Louise Fitzpatrick, another parent and spokesperson for the Educate D8 campaign.

The schools that are [in Dublin 8] are serving a brilliant purpose, but they are not serving the needs of that 60 per cent non-Catholic population

—  Louise Fitzpatrick, parent

While Dublin 8 has a high proportion of non-Catholics, this is not reflected in the distribution of newly established multidenominational schools. Data shows Blackrock, for example, has a population that is 68 per cent Catholic, compared with 31 per cent in Dublin 8. However, Blackrock was granted the establishment of a new multidenominational school in 2021.

“The vast majority of [new] schools are in suburban areas, and this very much has to do with the planning model that has been pursued by the Department of Education,” says Dr JoAnne Mancini, associate professor of history at Maynooth University.

Mancini says this model favours suburban areas over urban when it comes to achieving educational outcomes and increasing participation in third-level education. More urban areas, she says, see less investment in education and, as a result, have fewer options.

Fitzpatrick says she would like to see the divestment of an existing school being considered, but that this is not a quick solution. “It’s a no-brainer, but it’s complicated because lands are owned by church and religious orders. There’s history and heritage there. It’s really complex,” she says.

She says the predicament around school provision and places is not restricted to those who wish to attend a non-religious school. “The schools that are [in Dublin 8] are serving a brilliant purpose, but they are not serving the needs of that 60 per cent non-Catholic population,” says Fitzpatrick; “It’s not that we want to rip up and tear apart the existing schools. We want more choice, but there’s just not enough space as well. That’s the bigger point.”

Fitzpatrick says the lack of choice, coupled with limited places, is forcing about 45 per cent of secondary school students to travel out of their locality to attend school. Research carried out by Educate D8 has found that the area exceeds the gap of 600 places identified by the Department of Education before the establishment of a new school can be considered.

Those who wish to attend a multidenominational or Irish-medium school can apply to Sandymount, Harold’s Cross or Rathfarnham, all of which present families with school commutes that are significantly longer than the national average.

Mancini’s research on access to active travel for urban teenagers explores the barriers in place for those living in Dublin 8.

“The electoral division that had both the longest average duration of commute in Dublin city, but also the lowest take-up of active transport, was in the Dublin 8 school planning area,” says Mancini. The research shows “that there are secondary-school-aged children who live in areas that are densely populated, close to the city centre, and yet who have commutes that exceed the State average for children’s commutes by as much as 50 per cent”.

Mancini says the low level of active travel in school-going children in areas such as Dublin 8 is not a behaviour that can be changed by national campaigns or personal motivation because it is linked to the lack of choice in the area.

As seen by the dramatic drop in traffic in Dublin come June each year, how many secondary school kids are being dropped to school by car every day?

—  Jane Toolan, parent

“I would look at it from the perspective of, what are the options that are provided to them? What kind of schools are being provided to them by the State in various local areas?” says Mancini.

Long school commutes can take their toll on a student’s experience of education.

“The kids are coming to school tired; in the evening it affects the quality and the amount of homework that they can complete,” says Fitzpatrick. “A big piece would be not having friends in the area, and the Junior and Leaving Cert years in particular are extremely stressful for those kids because the quality of and their ability to study is also affected by the fact that they have a long commute every day.”

Another parent in the area, who asked not to be named, said the challenges presented by her daughter commuting to school mean the only realistic option is to drive her daughter to school. It can mean sitting in traffic for a 1½-hour round trip. She says this daily exodus of schoolchildren has a knock-on effect on the Dublin 8 community.

“You stand here at seven o’clock on a Monday morning and there’s trails of kids leaving, they’re leaving in the dark, they’re coming home in the dark – the only affiliation they have with the area is that’s where their house is. I feel sorry for that,” the parent says,

Come September, Toolan’s daughter will be part of that daily exodus, and it weighs heavily on her.

“She has no concept of the idea of commuting, but I know the impact it has on your life,” she says. “As seen by the dramatic drop in traffic in Dublin come June each year, how many secondary school kids are being dropped to school by car every day?

“By not providing us with multidenominational schools in English and Irish in our area, it seems that we are being forced into our cars. Surely providing a choice of appropriate local schools would contribute dramatically to carbon reductions? A win-win for everyone. A win-win for my kids.”

Postcode lottery: School commutes in two Dublin districts

Sharp differences in the proportion of teens who walk or cycle to school have much to do with access to schools, rather than the population density of an area.

The gap is most evident within two parts of Dublin, based on research by Mancini.

70 per cent: teens in Clonskeagh-Belfield who walk/cycle to school

12 per cent: teens in Kilmainham who walk/cycle to school