Reforms to limit places schools can hold for children of ex-pupils

‘Old school tie’ rule will see no more than 25% of places held for children of past pupils

Minister for Education Richard Bruton says new legislation will increase the ‘transparency and fairness’ of school admissions. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Minister for Education Richard Bruton says new legislation will increase the ‘transparency and fairness’ of school admissions. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Schools will be forced to set aside no more than 25 per cent of places for children of past pupils under new legislation to be published shortly.

The “old school tie” provision is part of a series of reforms aimed at making admissions rules easier and more transparent for children and parents.

An attempt by the previous government to put a similar limit in place was never legislated for and faced resistance from some private schools.

However, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said on Wednesday he plans to bring forward an amendment to the Education (Admissions to Schools) Bill which is due to be enacted by the end of the year.

The legislation will not deal with the controversial “baptism barrier”issue, in which over-subscribed denominational schools can discriminate in their admissions policies against non-religious or minority faith children.

This “complex issue”, Mr Bruton said, will be debated separately by an Oireachtas education committee over the coming months.

However, he said the new legislation will ensure any denominational school which is not oversubscribed - or 80 per cent of all schools - must admit all students who apply.

The legislation, due to be published later this week, also seeks to:

* Phase out long waiting lists for students from 2017 or 2018 onwards, which are seen to discriminate against parents who have relocated within Ireland or immigrants. This would mean children could only apply in the year before admission;

* Ban any fees charged by schools in relation to admission;

* Require all schools to publish their admissions policies, including details on how they will provide for children who decline to take part in religious instruction;

* Ensure that a child with special needs can access a school place that is designated by the National Council for Special Education or Tusla, the State’s child and family agency.

Mr Bruton said the legislation will increase the “transparency and fairness” of school admissions.

“It makes clear that every school must be welcoming of every young person - regardless of their colour, their abilities or disabilities. It will help to end the soft barriers that some of our schools erect in the way of children with special needs,” he said.

He said the vast majority of schools welcomed all children , but acknowledged that there were issues in over-subscribed schools.

“They [over-subscribed schools] must be fair and transparent in deciding how to prioritise children for admission to the school. This Bill will make sure that is the case in all schools,”he said.

In response, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said the proposals lacked clarity and called for detailed discussions with the Department of Education on the issue.

“Fair enrolment in primary schools is a key issue for the INTO which supports of equal access to full education for all children,” a spokesman said.

“The INTO has long held the view that allowing the authorities of a school to refuse entry to a child on the basis of religion is regressive, dangerous and anti-educational.”