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Schools face ban on charging admission fees or interviewing parents on enrolment

Minister Ruairí Quinn hopes the legislation will lead to a fairer system and cut down on court cases over school admissions.

Updated 17.46

THE MINISTER FOR Education has proposed a set of laws that would see schools banned from accepting admission fees or interviewing parents ahead of the enrolment of new pupils.

Publishing the draft legislation this morning, Ruairí Quinn said the General Scheme for an Education (Admissions to Schools) Bill would bring “a parent-friendly, equitable and consistent framework to regulate school admissions policy” for Ireland’s 4,000 primary and post-primary schools.

“If enacted, this framework will improve access to schools for all pupils and will ensure there is consistency, fairness and transparency in the admissions policies of all schools.”

According to the Department of Education, the draft bill hopes to “remove the burden from parents of appealing school decisions to refuse a place to their child”.

In a statement today, it explained:

The draft regulations seek to bring a level playing pitch for families newly settled or returning to live in an area and to ensure a parent’s income or ability to pay admission fees cannot be a factor that will determine school admission. The regulations will also bring an end to the ‘soft barriers’ that can affect children with special educational needs.

The current system – which has been described as complex – often leads to disputes and court cases.

School rules

Under the proposals, schools would not be allowed to accept applications for admission before 1 October of the year preceding the year of enrolment. However, boarding schools will be given some leeway in this area.

The Minister has also asked for the power to ensure that no admission fees may be sought or charged as a condition of application for admission to a school.

The rules would also place a ban on schools from interviewing parents and children ahead of enrolment.

Schools that currently have waiting lists in place may apply for a derogation which would given them a few years to clear those lists. Institutions will also be allowed to prioritise places for applicants who is a sibling of an existing or former student.

“I believe there is a better way of dealing with school admissions. These measures are about what might be described as ‘good housekeeping’ and will bring about greater transparency, fairness and consistency in the way schools operate their admission processes,” Quinn said.

“While I don’t want to overly intrude in day-to-day school management the proposed new regulatory framework strikes a balance between school autonomy and fairness in our education system and would require schools to provide a better service for parents.”

The draft general scheme and regulations will be give to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection today but Quinn hopes it will proceed to the next stage quickly. The public consultation process related to the heads of bill was held during 2011.

Special educational needs

ETBI general secretary Michael Moriarty said that the rules will also stop discrimination against young people with special educational needs. “For too long young people with special educational needs have been deprived of the opportunity to attend the school of their choice and the proposed legislation should eliminate this discriminatory practice,” he said.

Clive Byrne, director of the National Association of Deputy Principals also welcomed the proposals saying that school administrators now have a clear admissions policy to follow. He added that access to the proposals should be the next step with any new procedures being made available on all school websites.

-Additional reporting by Rónán Duffy

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