A number of groups raised concerns over the proposed new legislation yesterday despite Education Minister Richard Bruton insisting throughout the day that it will ensure key changes can take place.
Under plans published by the Fine Gael minister yesterday after they were signed-off on by cabinet, Mr Bruton is proposing to impose a high-profile overhaul of the school admissions service.
As part of new measures, admission waiting lists and fees will be banned while any school that is not over-subscribed and has space available must accept all pupils who apply to attend.
The latter issue crucially includes a de facto ban on schools with places refusing to allow children who have a different religion to the facility’s ethos, or no religion, from attending, in addition to pupils outside their traditional catchment area and those with special needs.
However, in a controversial move that has led to criticism from some parent and school organisations, the Education (Admissions to Schools) bill has failed to ban this alleged discrimination in schools that are fully subscribed — allowing them to the right to continue basing enrolment on the basis of religion or special needs.
Speaking during a series of media interviews yesterday, Mr Bruton stressed the reforms — which also include a demand for schools to publish their admissions policies in future — will ensure changes at 80% of facilities nationwide.
He added that the changes will be introduced by September next year, ensuring the alterations to existing admissions systems are made swiftly, with the ongoing issue surrounding the remaining 20% of schools to be addressed at future Dáil committee.
“This [the bill] is a very practical move and something that helps pupils and parents,” Mr Bruton told Today FM.
“We have had places where children with special needs have found difficulty in accessing a school. So this offers very important protection for children and is a practical step forward.”
Asked about the remaining 20% of schools which will be allowed to continue to discriminate in admissions on the basis of religion and other matters when they are over-subscribed, Mr Bruton said the issue is “quite complex” and needs to be “teased out” along a different “track” involving a Dáil committee.
Mr Bruton repeatedly said yesterday the new bill offers a practical way forward in addressing long-standing issues in school admissions.
However, despite the move being welcomed by a number of groups including children’s charity Barnardos, groups such as the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), and Education Equality Ireland said the moves do not go far enough and mean pupils seeking to attend one in five schools nationwide are still being failed.
“Those schools [the remaining 20%] are still entitled under the law to discriminate,” said Education Equality Ireland spokesperson Paddy Monahan. “The law as it stands is unconstitutional, and I think the Minister is deliberately muddying the waters.”
While welcoming aspects of the new bill, INTO vice president John Boyle said his union wants to have “immediate discussions with the minister” as to how the removal of waiting lists can be dealt with practically before the next school term.