Education Minister Richard Bruton will propose that schools be allowed set aside no more than one in four places for those whose mother or father attended during the passage of his new Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 which was published yesterday.
Although some secondary schools argued that no limits should be set on how many places can be held for past pupils’ sons or daughters, an Oireachtas Education Committee report in 2014 suggested a total ban on the practice. That emerged from extensive consultations on a draft bill put forward by previous education minister Ruairi Quinn, including a 25% cap on spaces that could be held.
After publishing a similar bill over a year ago, Mr Quinn’s successor and Labour Party colleague Jan O’Sullivan suggested a compromise figure of 10%. However, Mr Bruton now plans to go back to the 25% figure, and Fianna Fáil is set to back the proposal.
The main opposition party’s education spokesman, Thomas Byrne, said he would put forward a number of amendments to reflect the party’s position, but 25% was “in the ball park”.
“Broadly, that seems OK, it’s clearly an issue in some parts of the country. We’ll be putting our own amendments to this bill on a range of issues, including the religious issue and this,” he said.
However, the National Parents’ Council-Primary believes it is not fair that a child has to have had a parent attend a school to increase their chances.
“It’s not an issue raised with us a lot, but it certainly doesn’t fit in with efforts to make a system fair and equitable, just like the issue of waiting lists,” said council chief executive Áine Lynch.
Mr Bruton intends to proceed with a ban on schools operating waiting lists that allow parents put a child’s name down for enrolment in a school at birth, or from a very early age. There are some concerns, however, that families who already have children’s names down with schools could have a legitimate expectation of being placed, leaving schools open to legal challenge.
While they both support the ban, Mr Byrne and Ms Lynch agreed there should be a transitional phase over a number of years for families who had names on waiting lists already.
While a period of about five years is likely to be put forward, a spokesperson for Mr Bruton said any decision on an acceptable phasing out period will be made after engagement with stakeholders.
The bill does not address the recent pressure on Government to remove exemptions to equality law that allows religious-controlled schools give priority to children of the same faith.
Equate Ireland urged Mr Bruton to fast-track consideration by the Oireachtas of a bill on the issue, introduced by the Labour Party. The campaign group wants an end to the so-called baptism barrier that requires thousands of families to have their children baptised just to get into local schools.
It welcomed the provision in the new bill that schools must provide details in their admissions policies of how they will cater for students who do not wish to attend religious instruction.