Give me a crash course in . . . new school admission policies

 

My son is applying for entry to that great fee-paying school attended by his brothers and his dad. Admission is a formality, I suppose. Am I right? 

Sorry to rain on your parade, but you may be a little overconfident. Schools may no longer be able to guarantee places to past pupils on legal advice.

Who is behind this scandal?Name the culprit! Please modify your tone! There are important equality issues here. Legal experts are examining a landmark Equality Tribunal case last year. This upheld the right of a Traveller to be enrolled at a school in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. The school had given priority to Catholic applicants whose fathers or brothers were past pupils.

So how does this affect my poor son?The Department of Education is examining legal advice it has received on the case. It says it is “examining current practices by schools across all management types and in both sectors (primary and second level) in relation to enrolment policies and enrolment practices’’.

What’s going on? Isn’t admission to all schools open?Not quite. Although they don’t admit it, some schools use all kinds of restrictive admissions policies to exclude certain categories of students, including Travellers, those with special needs, the children of immigrants and even low academic achievers. These are not my words; this was the main finding of a Department of Education audit of school admission policies in 2006. The audit found some schools were using elaborate pre-enrolment procedures, such as waiting lists and siblings policies, to exclude some students. Some were even “cherry-picking” the best and the brightest students, an illegal practice under the Education Act. At the time, Mary Hanafin, as minister for education, accused some schools of using “subtle practices’’ to exclude some students.

I hope you are not talking about fee-paying schools.Would you believe it? Fee-paying schools were excluded from the department’s audit. But, yes, some of the 56 fee-paying schools in the State are in the line of fire here. The Teachers’ Union of Ireland accuses some of operating a kind of education apartheid. General secretary Peter MacMenamin says they are “positively selecting those students they want and at the same time refusing to accept any student with difficulties, such as would require special needs assistance. This is nothing more than a continuation of a vicious form of educational apartheid designed to maintain a class-ridden society.”

Strong words. What have the fee-paying school got to say in response?They deny all charges.

What about admission tests? Will they be banned as well?Any cherry-picking of students is already banned. If it became clear that the admission test was being used to exclude some categories of students that would also be deemed illegal – but this might be difficult to prove.

Bring me back to my own son. Is his place at risk?He should be okay for next year, but after that don’t count your chickens. The department is examining new ways of limiting the sibling rule. The “guarantee’’ of a place to a pupil because his parents attended it is also under threat. Major change is coming – and it could blow away many of the old certainties about school admission.

Seán Flynn