‘Unjust’ priority admissions for past pupils’ children must go, says Ombudsman

Dr Niall Muldoon says rule risks locking generations into cycle of disadvantage

School admission rules which discriminate in favour of past pupils’ children risk locking generations of vulnerable young people into a cycle of disadvantage, the Ombudsman for Children had warned.

Under existing school admission rules, schools are permitted to allocate 25 per cent of places for the children or grandchildren of past pupils if they are oversubscribed.

However, Dr Niall Muldoon said this discriminates against children of immigrant backgrounds, Traveller children and the children of parents with disabilities who may not have attended secondary school.

In addition, he said children of families who have moved to a different area, returned from abroad or where there has been a change in family circumstances are all at a disadvantage.


“We believe that schools should be fully inclusive and promote equality,” Dr Muldoon said.

“Education can be a way out of disadvantage for many students. Yet this provision seems to say that children who had parents and grandparents who went to a particular school, can get priority in obtaining a school place. This is undoubtedly leading to a continuing cycle of disadvantage for some children.”

He was speaking at the Oireachtas committee on education which heard submissions on a Bill drafted by Labour Party education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin which proposes to remove priority admission for children or grandchildren of past pupils.

The National Parents Council – Primary said dramatic changes in our communities mean that children are growing up in vastly different local communities to that of their parents and grandparents.

“Any legislation then that allows for the possible discrimination within communities must be amended,” said Áine Lynch, the council’s chief executive.

“At the core of these communities are our schools and what happens within a school shapes the communities around them. Who gets access to a school and who doesn’t says something to the community around it. Ensuring that a school’s admission policy provides and is seen to provide equity of access for local children to their local school, must be a priority.”

The committee heard there is no evidence yet to show the scale at which numbers are being refused access to their local school on the basis of the past-pupil provision.

School management bodies have said only a small minority of schools use the provision and the criterion is usually below that of catchment area, feeder schools and whether the child has siblings in the school.

At last week’s Oireachtas committee, the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which which represents more than 400 voluntary schools, said the practice of prioritising siblings and children/grandchildren of past pupils “arose from a concern for continuity of family experience and for the primacy of parental choice as protected in the Constitution”.

Barnardos, the children’s charity, told Tuesday’s committee meeting that it was “unjust” that children whose parents struggled in the education system or were not education here should be discriminated against.

"Education is often a primary route out of disadvantage for many of these children," said Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly.

“The existing legislation sends out the wrong message to children, parents, grandparents and society as a whole. It tells children where their parents and grandparents did or did not go to school determines their own future opportunities.”

Ms Connolly added that limiting a child’s educational options due to having parents or grandparents who they themselves had limited options was the “epitome of promoting intergenerational disadvantage and discrimination”.

“A child’s educational options should never be negatively affected by the education of their parents and grandparents,” she said.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said the discussion on school admissions has opened up a wider debate around equity of access to the education system.

“What happens every year is that parents and children are at the heart of a scramble for what is perceived to be the better school in an area. It is kind of depressing that one school is seen as better than another . . . I believe we need a Finnish revolution in Irish education,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent