Q&A: How will ‘Baptism barrier’ removal affect my child?

New school admissions legislation will impact on all 4,000 schools across the State

The new changes will remove religion (or lack of it) as a ground for entry into Catholic primary schools.

The new changes will remove religion (or lack of it) as a ground for entry into Catholic primary schools.

 

Q: My children aren’t baptised. Do these changes mean they’ll have a better chance of getting a school place?

A: Right now, faith schools can give priority enrolment to children of their own religion ahead of others in cases where they are oversubscribed. This, say many, unfairly discriminates against non-religious children given that 95 per cent of schools are schools are denominational in nature.

The new changes will remove religion (or lack of it) as a ground for entry into Catholic primary schools. It won’t guarantee a non-baptised child will gain entry to their local Catholic school.

However, the Government says it will make entry fairer by ensuring non-baptised children will have the same chances of entry as any other children.

Q. So, what about children who are Catholic. Will they be discriminated against?

A: Religion will no longer confer any advantage to children seeking to access Catholic schools.

About 90 per cent of primary schools in the State are of a Catholic ethos, so the Government argues that Catholic families will always have access to a Catholic school, if that is their choice.

However, there’s no doubt that the changes could make it more difficult for baptised children to access a Catholic school place in areas where schools are heavily oversubscribed. They will, however, be in the same boat as all other children.

Q. What about minority faith children – Protestants, Muslims, etc. How will they be affected?

A. Minority faith schools – defined as those who membership is below 10 per cent of the population – will not be affected by the changes.

This means they will be allowed to prioritise members of their religion. This, the Government says, is in order to protect their ethos in cases where they are over-subscribed.

Q. This isn’t really a religious problem - it’s simply a case of not having enough school places, surely?

A. That’s the argument made by many Catholic groups. They say the changes won’t make it any easier to access oversubscribed schools.

The Department of Education, however, says that as long as parents can choose what school to send their children to, there will be more popular schools and less popular schools, and some schools will be oversubscribed.

It adds that it is providing an average of nearly 20,000 school places per year to deal with demographic growth.

Q. What are the chances of this legislation actually being enacted?

A. Minister for Education Richard Bruton says he plans to enact the new Bill “as soon as possible” with a view to implementing it from September 2019 onwards.

If the Government falls, any draft legislation will fall too. The Bill - which is about mid-way through the legislative cycle - is unlikely to be enacted prior to the summer recess, say political sources. The earliest date, then, is next autumn. Whether the Government lasts that long is anyone’s guess.

Q. I hear there are also plans to ban school waiting lists. Does this mean my child will lose his second level place?

A. A ban on waiting lists for all schools is due to come into force, aimed at ensuring children who move to a new area are not disadvantaged.

Instead, there will be a three-week enrolment window in the year prior to admission.

However, there is due to be a five-year phasing-in period for this provision once the legislation is enacted (estimated to be September 2019).

Q. Are rules also changing for admission to Gaelscoileanna?

A. Rules will allow all-Irish primary and secondary schools to give enrolment priority to children raised through the language.

Under this approach, parents will be required to provide evidence that their child has an “age appropriate” level of fluency. Parents will have a choice to demonstrate this through a interview at the school or via a video.

The Government says it is doing this for “public policy” reasons to prevent any risk of regression in students’ capacity to speak Irish.