Parents: Schools may dodge entry rules

Schools that repeatedly refuse enrolment or breach proposed new admissions rules could get away with it unless an independent appeals system remains available, a parents’ leader has claimed.

The suggestion arose at an Oireachtas education committee hearing into a proposed bill to allow Education Minister Ruairi Quinn impose enrolment regulations on schools for the first time. The draft provisions aim to make the process more fair and transparent for families, with wide welcome for plans to outlaw up-front application fees and first-come-first-served waiting lists that can disadvantage newcomers to a community.

But the proposal raising most concern at the hearing — the first of three to be held with some of the 50 groups which made submissions — is the removal of a right to appeal an enrolment refusal to the Department of Education.

Department assistant secretary Martin Hanevy said the appeal system under the 1998 Education Act has proved litigious and a significant burden for parents. He said a provision in the draft bill would allow a patron to take over admissions in a school or, in extreme cases, for the minister to appoint someone else to run its enrolment policy.

“So if it’s being operated incorrectly, or bluntly, if there’s messing going on in a school, there’s a deterrent power being put on a shelf here,” he said.

National Parents’ Council-Primary chief executive Áine Lynch said many of the proposals would tighten up what happens in schools, but there are concerns about what would happen if parents cannot get their child into local schools or believe a policy is unfair.

“There should be some external body where they can be heard if the local appeal procedure is already exhausted. We know there’s an ultimate sanction that the minister can put in someone else to make those decisions,” she said.

“But if there isn’t an independent appeals mechanism ... then how are we going to become aware that there are issues happening in schools?”

School management groups highlighted the risk of boards of management being open to judicial review proceedings or other legal action if they uphold a principal’s decision to refuse enrolment under the proposed procedures.

Irish Traveller Movement director Brigid Quilligan said rules permitting schools reserve some places for children of past pupils should be banned entirely, rather than allowed in limited circumstances as they disadvantage Travellers and migrants straightaway.

She said school boards would not be impartial enough to make final decisions on enrolment appeals, and access to justice would be reserved only for parents who could afford it.

National Council for Special Education (NCSE) chief executive Teresa Griffin said it would be helpful if the legislation provided a right of appeal where a school only enrols a child for one or two hours a day. She said that because there is no national monitoring of such instances, the NCSE cannot be sure if they are getting an education appropriate to their needs.

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