Bill aims to tackle ‘intergenerational privilege’ in school admissions

Labour attacks Act allowing 25% of places be held for past pupils’ children and grandchildren

Minister for Education Norma Foley defended the decision to introduce an amendment to delay the Labour Bill for 12 months to review the use of schools’ admission criteria. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Minister for Education Norma Foley defended the decision to introduce an amendment to delay the Labour Bill for 12 months to review the use of schools’ admission criteria. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

Schools should not be allowed to keep 25 per cent of places for the children or grandchildren of past pupils, the Dáil has been told.

A Bill introduced by the Labour Party aims to “attack” privilege in education and a policy “used predominantly by fee-paying schools”.

Labour TD Duncan Smith said the policy of retaining places in this way is never used by community, Educate Together or Gaelscoileanna.

“This is about intergenerational privilege and about passing down the school tie and crest,” he said.

He said the Education (Admissions to School) Bill changes this policy, adding that “privilege and this kind of elitism needs to be tackled anywhere we find it”.

The party’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Riordáin said the inclusion of the policy in the 2018 Admissions to School Act “was a deliberate attempt to keep the royal bloodline of succession through particular elitist second-level schools and it was done at the behest of those elitist second-level schools.

“What if somebody’s father or grandfather did not go to second level, or his or her mother or grandmother, or what if somebody is not from the area and, therefore, did not attend a second-level school nearby? What happens if a person is not from this country?

“It should not matter who your parents or grandparents are because in a republic we are supposed to cherish all of the children of the nation equally.”

He criticised the Government amendment to the Bill to delay the process by a year as a “cynical move to try and eke another year out of maintaining the status quo”.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said however that there was no evidence available to show how widespread the practice is “or indeed that there are any difficulties posed for those seeking admission to school where it is in use”. “Schools that are not oversubscribed must accept all applicants,” she said.

Ms Foley defended the decision to introduce an amendment to delay the Bill for 12 months to review the use of schools’ admission criteria.

She said that in this way there could be an informed and considered view and they could establish “the use and the impact, if any, of these criteria on school admissions”.

The Minister added that “importantly, it also avoids disrupting and delaying the school admissions processes for 2021-2022 which are already under way in schools”.

The Labour Bill seeks to amend the 2018 Admissions to School Act which brought in several reforms to the admissions process which kick in from September 2021. These changes include phasing out waiting lists so parents can only apply for a place in the year prior to admission and introducing a cap of 25 per cent on the number of places that can be held for the children or grandchildren of former pupils.

This figure was debated in the Oireachtas at the time with Mr Ó Riordáin putting forward an amendment in the Seanad to remove the provision, which was voted down in 2018.

Sinn Féin education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said “there is no logical reason to have a number of places set aside for potential students who had a father, grandfather, mother or grandmother in a school.

“There are very logical and practical reasons for setting aside places for siblings but there are none for setting aside places based on parents or, much more tenuously, grandparents having attended a school.”

The Dáil will vote on the Bill next week.