School enrolment changes proposed

 

The Minister for Education and Skills has proposed the introduction of legislative changes to outlaw certain school admission practices which may discriminate against certain applicants.

Ruairí Quinn said schools which give priority to children who are related to staff, board members or former pupils, who attend its pre-school, who have been longest on a 'waiting-list', who are more academically skilled or whose parents have a particular linguistic ability, should no longer be able to discriminate in such ways.

Mr Quinn today presented a discussion document on school enrolment policies and invited submissions from the public on the issue.

"This document is not meant to be prescriptive, nor have any decisions been made as to what elements will be contained in any final regulations or legislation. It is meant to lead and provoke debate on enrolment policies," he said.

While the majority of schools had no problems in allocating places, some 20 per cent did not have enough places to meet demand and so allocated according to criteria, which appeared to some to be unfair.

Appeals however by parents of children who have been refused a place at a chosen school have risen by 750 per cent since 2002 when an appeals process was put in place.

The document - Discussion Paper on a Regulatory Framework for School Enrolment - contains suggestions on how the process of enrolling pupils at both primary and secondary school could made more clear, open and equitable.

When demand exceeds supply of places, criteria are applied by schools to give priority to certain children. And while as much a possible enrolment policies should be the preserve of the individual schools and their boards of management, there was a need for a clear, common approach on some issues so parents and applicant pupils were clear on their rights and obligations, said Mr Quinn.

If not addressed this would become an increasingly pressing issue, he continued, as there was forecast to be an additional 20,000 post-primary students in the State in the next decade.

The document also comes months after an Equality Tribunal ruling that a Christian Brothers school in Clonmel, Co Tipperary indirectly discriminated against a Traveller applicant. One of its criteria for prioritising applicants was having a father who attended the school.

When demand does exceed supply at school, the document suggests some criteria are legitimate, including the age of the applicant where schools give priority to older pupils; where a child has siblings already in the school; where the child lives near the school and where denominational schools give priority to children of a particular faith.

"Criteria we would suggest should not be permissible are when priority is given to a child who is related to a staff or board member at the school, or who is related to a past pupil; who have been on a waiting list the longest; who attended a particular pre-school; where a deposit or booking-fee has been paid, though this may be permissible in fee-paying schools; the academic skill of the child and the linguistic ability of the parents," said the Minister.

Many of these criteria, he explained, discriminated against families who were new to the area and could not possibly have past-pupil or staff links to the school or have been on a waiting list from a young age.

The paper also suggest sanctions that could be imposed on a school or management board which was not compliant with new regulations.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation gave a "broad welcome” to the document. The document can be viewed at the Department website and submissions of not more than 5,000 words are welcome by October 28th.