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schools admissions

Clause that ring-fences places for children of past pupils not widely used, committee to be told

Labour’s Bill seeks to change the School Admissions Act.

TWO EDUCATIONAL GROUPS that are set to appear before today’s Oireachtas Education Committee are against the removal of a clause that allows 25% of school places be reserved for children and grandchildren of past pupils. 

A bill put forward by the Labour Party on the matter is up for discussion today, with five educational bodies set to appear before members. 

Speaking in advance of the committee meeting, Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the school your parents and grandparents went to should be irrelevant.

“Labour’s Bill would seek to change the School Admissions Act and remove an element of elitism that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil colluded to include in the Admissions to School Bill during the previous Government.

“Right now, 25% of school places are reserved for the children or grandchildren of past pupils of that school. It is an exclusionary and elitist piece of legislation that was included solely at the behest of certain influential fee-paying schools,” he said.

Ó Ríordáin claims it is 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”. 

‘Not widely used’

However, in its opening statement to the committee the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS) states that in order to inform their submission to the committee on the issue, it consulted with their member schools to identify how many schools prioritise the children of parents and grandparents in their admissions policies.

It found that only one school out of 67 prioritises children of parents who attended the school from applicants within the catchment area, stating that this criterion is not widely implemented.

“In this case, the real challenge is the lack of a sufficient number of places to meet demand in the catchment area,” it says.

John Irwin, General Secretary and James Duignan, President of ACCS say in their statement that they both agree that school boards seek to strike a balance between legitimate competing interests, stating that it would be their group’s view that the clause is not removed.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB) says in its opening statement that it is important to note that there appears to be a misconception that, where schools choose to include the parent/grandparent criterion, 25% of the total number of places being made available are automatically set aside for qualifying applicants.

“In our experience very few schools reach the allowed cap of 25%. The school may not be oversubscribed, or the criterion may have been placed down the list of oversubscription criteria so that it is not reached at all, or where reached, very few places remain to be allocated,” the group said.

Shortage of school places

The JMB said it supports the retention of the section of the law, but says it “welcomes the committee’s focus on oversubscription and the shortage of school places more generally”. 

NABMSE, which represents the Boards of Management (BoM) of special schools and mainstream schools with special classes, says in its opening statement that it supports the removal of the paragraph from the schools admissions bill. 

Meanwhile, the Educational Training Board (ETB) says “it would not be a cause of great concern to us if it were removed, provided it is removed for every school”.

Pat McKelvey, Director of Schools for Cork ETB, will tell the committee today that schools have an open and transparent approach to admissions, and where the past pupil criteria does exist in a very small number of schools, it is so low down the list of selection criteria and is not often used. 

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) will say that before today’s hearing, it sought and identified one post-primary school that operates the parent/ grandparent criterion and asked them how many of their current first year students relied on this criterion to gain access to the school.

“The answer was none. Many first-year students had parents and/ or grandparents that attended the school but all of the current first year group qualified to be awarded a place under the other criterion operated by the school ahead of the parent/ grandparent criterion,” its opening statement sets out.

“This raised the question of the relevance of this criterion for this school. This situation may well be replicated elsewhere throughout the country. While I do accept this is a complex issue for some schools. The strength of the belief in the purpose or vision of Irish education to promote equality and inclusiveness will in turn determine the decision that is required to adopt or reject the proposed Education (Admission to schools) Bill 2020,” says the NAPD Director Paul Crone. 

Read here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project to investigate why every child in Ireland doesn’t have a place in secondary school.

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