Education Minister to unveil new school places plan

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan could face Cabinet pressure and campaigning from schools as she plans to put much tighter limits than previously proposed on the number of places schools can reserve for past pupils’ children.

Education Minister to unveil new school places plan

She would prefer a limit of just 10% of places in over-subscribed schools being set aside for students whose parents also attended — far less than the 25% restriction suggested 18 months ago by her predecessor, Ruairi Quinn.

He did so to give children of new families to an area a fair chance of attending the school of choice, but groups representing Travellers and others said any past-pupil enrolment rules were discriminatory. After a series of public hearings, the Oireachtas education committee recommended a year ago that no places should be reserved for children of past pupils.

Ms O’Sullivan is not likely to go quite that far, but will tell the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s annual congress this morning that she thinks it should be considerably lower than the 25% of places suggested by Mr Quinn.

“It is certainly my view that a much lower exemption, of perhaps 10% of all school places, is as high as such a threshold should be set,” she will say.

Her intended policy direction comes against the background of some within Fine Gael backing campaigns by fee-paying and other schools that have been angered by any proposed restrictions. The Coalition parties have previously been at odds over education policy, most notably over a Department of Education report on small schools’ staffing published by Ms O’Sullivan last month but whose recommendations the Government did not accept, due in part to rural FG backbenchers’ persistent lobbying.

The regulations on enrolment policies would be underpinned by the Admission to Schools Bill, published by Ms O’Sullivan this morning and designed to ensure fair and transparent procedures in all schools. If the law is passed by the summer as she hopes, debate would open on draft regulations which she would then have to put out for public consultation.

Ms O’Sullivan plans to retain some form of independent enrolment appeals mechanism, but the format of a new system will not be set out until during the bill’s committee stage. The bill would ban schools from charging fees, operating waiting lists, or discriminating on grounds covered by equality law, but with exemptions for single-sex and religious-owned schools.

Ms O’Sullivan will hear demands at the INTO congress, which opened in Ennis yesterday, for reversal of pay cuts of the past number of years.

At the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and Teachers’ Union of Ireland conferences starting today, junior cycle reform and opposition to institute of technology mergers are expected to also dominate, along with pay and conditions.

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