Schools should accept pupils on proximity - O'Sullivan

Jan O’Sullivan says future reform of admissions needed to ensure equal access

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said proximity could be included in “future reform”. Photograph: Frank Miller

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said proximity could be included in “future reform”. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Primary schools should be obliged to accept pupils based on proximity rather than their religious denomination in cases where schools are oversubscribed, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has proposed.

There is ongoing controversy over unbaptised children or those of minority faiths being denied places in denominational schools where demand exceeds supply.

In response to an Irish Times query, Ms O’Sullivan said further reform of admissions policy is necessary and factors such as how close a child lives to school should take precedence over religion in oversubscribed schools.

She said such a move would have to strike a balance and allow, for instance, minority faith schools to continue to serve dispersed populations.

However, any measure affecting the ability of schools to discriminate on the basis of religion would require changes to equality legislation.

This means any changes relating to religion are unlikely to feature in amendments to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, which is due to come before the Oireachtas shortly.

‘Future reform’

In a statement, Ms O’Sullivan said she welcomed the public debate in relation to school admissions policy and will consider proposals to amend the draft legislation during its passage through the Dáil and Seanad, but “future reform” could focus on issues such as proximity.

Some 90 per cent of State-funded primary schools remain under Catholic Church patronage.

Controversy over equal access to school is an issue with a minority of primary schools - about 20 per cent - which are over-subscribed.

The Irish Primary Principal Network says one way of getting around the current controversy is quota system for oversubscribed denominational schools, setting aside a certain number of places for unbaptised children or those of minority faiths.

David Roddy, the network’s vice-president, said: “A quote of 10 per cent, for example, is not unreasonable and would allow denominational schools to maintain their ethos.”

No simple solution

The Catholic Schools Partnership, which represents stakeholders in Catholic schools, said there was no simple solution to the issue, be it a quota or geographical boundary.

“By and large what’s causing this issue is parental perception over the quality of schools,” said Fr Michael Drumm. “Parents want certain schools over others, no what the criteria are.”

He said any solution is likely to be found at a local level, rather than trying to impose a national policy.

The new admissions bill does not envisage changing equality legislation. It will, however, prevent discrimination against applications on the grounds such as disability, special educational needs and membership of the Traveller community.