Government and Educate Together clash over enrolment

Tensions over Department directive that schools prioritise children from local areas

Correspondence between the Department of Education and Educate Together has revealed tensions over enrolment policies in new schools. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Correspondence between the Department of Education and Educate Together has revealed tensions over enrolment policies in new schools. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

Ongoing tensions between the Department of Education and Educate Together over enrolment policies in new schools are revealed in correspondence obtained under Freedom of Information legislation.

Educate Together as an organisation maintains a policy that its schools offer places on a first-come, first-served basis.

However, according to the Department of Education, any school opened since June 2011 must “meet the demographic needs presenting within a particular school feeder area”, which means that they must prioritise children from the local area.

Schools that opened before June 2011 may continue to prioritise children based on other criteria, including religion.

In correspondence with the department, Educate Together (ET) says this may also mean children of no religion living in an area where there is no ET school could feel discriminated against by schools in their area, while also being unable to access an ET school elsewhere.

In an email dated February 27th, 2015, to Amy Mulvihill, new schools programme manager with ET, and copied to the forward planning section of the department, Collette Dunne, principal of Firhouse ET National School, says: “Anne [Flynn] from forward planning has just phoned to say I can offer places to children on the waiting list whose addresses are within the catchment area but not to those outside the said area.

“I understand the [Department of Education and Skills] position that there should be places in the children’s local areas, but very often these families are pushed continuously to the bottom of enrolment lists because their children are not Catholic.”

On March 6th, 2015, Ms Mulvihill, in an email to Ms Flynn, said: “ET has serious concerns about a directive issued to Firhouse ETNS” regarding enrolment.”

The following week, Ms Mulvihill again emailed Ms Flynn, saying she had been unable to reach her.

“As this issue is pressing . . . we will now refer the matter back to the school’s board . . . and make the decision on their school’s admission policy.”

Later that day, Ms Flynn replied: “That approach would not be acceptable in line with the criteria under which the school was established.”

The following day, in a longer email, Ms Flynn said to Ms Mulvihill: “Firhouse ET was set up to meet the demographic need in that area . . . At the end of the day the school is about the children of the Firhouse area first and foremost.”

She said new schools cannot refer to demand for places outside its area “because the school is not intended for such children”.

Firhouse ETNS opened in September 2013.

‘First-come, first-served’

Firhouse ETNS’s website has stated that it “operates on a first-come, first-served enrolment policy”.

Extensive correspondence between ET and the department reveal repeated statements from the Department of Education that Shellybanks ETNS, which opened in Ballsbridge in Dublin in September 2014, must only offer places to children in Dublin 2 or 4.

Ms Mulvihill, in an email to Jackie Hynes, assistant principal at the department, dated March 13th, 2014, describes a “chronic shortage of ET schools places in the south city area” , saying that schools like Shellybanks ETNS “come under immense pressure”.

Ms Mulvihill said that the request that the school offer places only to children from Dublin 2 and 4 “came as a surprise”, but ET would “consider allowing catchment areas to be an element in future enrolment policies, for future schools”.

On March 19th, 2014, Ms Hynes emailed back, telling Ms Mulvihill that her response had been “very unsatisfactory”.

ET said that Shellybanks ETNS now prioritises children living in a catchment area defined by the Department of Education.

“Children living in this area are offered places first, in order of date of enrolment.

“Following this, children living outside the defined area are offered places, in order of date of enrolment.”