Schools fear legal actions over waiting list ban

South Dublin principals say they expect parents will challenge admissions reforms

Minister for Education Richard Bruton at Dublin Castle in Dublin, Ireland. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Education Richard Bruton at Dublin Castle in Dublin, Ireland. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Principals of some south Dublin secondary schools say they expect legal actions from parents who will lose automatic school places for their children as a result of new laws to ban waiting lists.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton is to publish school admissions legislation today which proposes to end waiting lists on the basis that they unfairly discriminate against parents and children.

This will mean children who are first in the queue for school places after being placed on waiting lists shortly after their birth will lose this advantage,

Instead, all children will be required to apply to enrol in a school in the year before enrolment.

Many prestigious secondary schools already have the names of thousands of young children on waiting lists for admission who are not due to begin second-level for up to 10 years or more.

‘Legitimate expectation’

One principal of a south County Dublin secondary school, who declined to be named, said: “Many feel that legally they have a legitimate expectation of getting a place because they’ve been signed-up for years.”

Another said: “Our advice to parents has been to get your name down on the list and see what happens [with the legislation]. There is a good chance they can challenge it if it becomes law. ”

A spokesman for Mr Bruton said the use of waiting lists for school admission can give rise to discrimination, in particular to people who have newly moved into an area.

“Transitional measures will be necessary with regard to the abolition of school waiting lists,” the spokesman said.

Any determination in relation to an “acceptable phasing out-period” will be made following engagement with stakeholders, the spokesman added.

Well-placed sources say this period could be in the region of three or four years and is likely to be stipulated in primary legislation.

Lynda O’Shea of the National Parents’ Council Post-Primary said the move was likely to frustrate many parents.

“If my child has been on a waiting list for a school for five or more years, only to find out they are no longer on any list, I would be very upset,” she said.

‘Phased out’

“They should be phased out over a longer period of time to accommodate parents who really want their child to go to a particular school.”

Mr Bruton’s legislation will also mean that no school will be able to set aside more than 25 per cent of places for children of past pupils.

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.

Some principals expect a fresh campaign against the proposals.

When a similar move was proposed in 2014, the Blackrock College Union – which represents past-pupils – urged former pupils to join the fight to defeat the proposal.

In a letter to former students at the time, the union’s then president – senior counsel Shane Murphy – warned the new law would prohibit the longstanding practice whereby schools assign priority to the applications of siblings and sons of past pupils.

“The admissions policy [at Blackrock] has engendered a positive community spirit through many generations of ‘Rockmen’ and has never before been so unjustly challenged by the State,” he wrote.

* This article was amended to correct an error