Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s proposal to allow schools with excess demand to reserve a quarter of places for children of past pupils has been strongly opposed by the Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan.
The suggestion has been made in one of the draft regulations, to be underpinned by first-time legislation on school admissions, which he published in September.
It would allow schools to apply for an exception from a suggested ban on reserving places for children of past pupils, up to a 25% maximum of places and for a time period to be set by the minister.
In advice to the minister, Ms Logan said legislation could be improved in the areas of criteria for admission to schools that are oversubscribed, appeals mechanisms, and central oversight of enrolment systems.
“The retention of the past pupil criterion is problematic because it can give rise to instances of indirect discrimination against particular groups of children,” she said.
“The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance expressed its concern at the impact this can have on Travellers and children of immigrant background.”
At the Oireachtas education committee yesterday, Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that even with a limit on how many places can be set aside for children of past pupils, some may not be able to compete for enrolment if their parents have not been to second level, or if they came from elsewhere in Ireland or overseas.
“I think that sort of thing has to be removed in its entirety. While I accept that 25% is a move in that direction, I don’t think it’s necessarily enough,” he said.
Mr Ó Ríordáin was speaking at the second of three committee hearings on the proposed legislation, with a bill to be drafted for Mr Quinn based on a report of public submissions and considerations.
Ken Whyte, principal of fee-paying Presentation Brothers College in Cork City, said around half of its intake is done by a lottery after the first half are allocated to children of past pupils.
“We think their involvement and that of their offspring brings a tradition and history to a school. We don’t really see a logic for putting a cap on the number of past pupils’ offspring that can be admitted and we would question the claimed benefits of such a cap,” he said.
Mr Whyte suggested proposed powers for the National Council for Special Education to direct schools to enrol children with special needs could be extended to take account of minority groups who cannot get places.
Mark O’Connor of Inclusion Ireland said the proposed power of the council to direct a school to enrol a child should ensure placement in a local mainstream school if that is the parents’ choice, and that schools are given resources to support children’s needs properly.
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