The issue was raised with Education Minister Richard Bruton ahead of the progression of his school admissions legislation that has already been discussed at committee stage in the Oireachtas.
The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) president, Cathnia Ó Muircheartaigh, said there were many diverse views and traditions among members at the organisation’s annual conference.
“NAPD wants a fair, transparent and realistic national admissions policy for all. We want an end to the ‘fair day’ system of multiple applications by parents, which make the planning of school placement almost unworkable,” he said.
The problem has long been highlighted by schools, particularly in areas with tight capacity in local schools and some students are offered places in more than one school. If their parents do not notify the school, or schools, that they do not plan to attend, other children are left with no place until principals find out some students have enrolled somewhere else instead.
The legislation published last year by Mr Bruton would authorise him or a successor as education minister to get involved in exceptional circumstances in areas where there are persistent problems of many students being unable to get school places.
Mr Ó Muircheartaigh, who is principal of Coláiste Pobail Osraí in Kilkenny, also raised the issue of access to all-Irish second-level education.
He believes every child in the State has a right to access second-level education through Irish, but said there were many areas where hundreds of children attend all-Irish schools in or outside the Gaeltacht but where second-level provision does not exist or has very limited spaces.
Mr Bruton told delegates at the NAPD conference they should be given greater autonomy on deciding the kind of continuous professional development their teachers should undergo in the coming years.
The Department of Education spends around €100m a year to cover teacher absences on a range of training programmes, but he said 85% of the courses are dictated by the department or other education agencies.
“Really, the centre of gravity has to be changed, where...leaders within schools identify the direction of travel. They should be shaping the types of professional support that their staff are getting to achieve [their schools’] goals,” he said.
“Of course, as we go down this road of greater trust, greater autonomy, greater devolution, it will put a stronger focus on the need for governance and accountability.”