Saturday 3 December 2016

Controversial plans to change 'old school tie' admissions bite dust

Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30

Jan O’Sullivan says that there is not enough time to get law through
Jan O’Sullivan says that there is not enough time to get law through

Controversial plans to change the rules on school admissions are being scrapped.

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Placing limits on the number of children of past pupils that a school may enrol - a move that sparked fury among the "old tie" brigade - will now bite the dust.

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan has admitted that there won't be time to get the proposed new law through in the lifetime of the current Dáil.

The minister said last night that "at this point in the political cycle I have concluded that it is unlikely that this legislation will pass through both houses of the Oireachtas in advance of the election".

Ms O'Sullivan noted that there was only one sitting week left before Christmas and it was unclear how many there would be in the New Year in advance of the election.

She said she was disappointed, but her disappointment would not be shared by her Fine Gael Cabinet colleagues, many of whom are past pupils of elite schools, who came under pressure on the issue of children of past pupils.

The past pupils' unions of two of the country's best known fee-paying schools, Belvedere College and Blackrock College, were among the most vocal against an interference with the status quo.

But opposition to change was far reaching and other schools, such as those with a strong GAA tradition, are also keen to preserve tight family links.

In another major announcement last night, Ms O'Sullivan said she would get rid of a 50-year-old rule that says religion must underpin the day of a primary school. She said that Rule 68 was "archaic" and that it would be removed in January, a step that will be welcomed by those seeking to reduce the influence of religion on Irish primary education.

While the rule may be regarded by some as symbolic, it creates discomfort for many parents who, because of lack of choice, enrol their child in a Catholic school but no not want them to come under any religious influence.

The minister said it would disappear, along with other rules "that don't speak to the diverse and welcoming nature of our modern school system".

Its abolition was recommended by the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, which called for a number of measures, including the divestment of some Catholic schools to other patron bodies in order to provide more educational diversity.

Meanwhile, the Admissions to School legislation was intended to introduce more transparency and fairness to school enrolment procedures by changing the rules around how schools can prioritise admissions.

The row over capping the number of children of past pupils who could enrol in a school grabbed much of the attention.

But the bill also included a ban on charging parents to apply for places and would have ushered in an era where schools could not prioritise children on a first come, first served basis, deemed unfair to newcomers to a neighbourhood.

Schools in an area would also be required to co-operate with each other in relation to their admissions processes, while new powers for the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the Child and Family Agency, Tulsa, to designate a school for a child who has no place were also envisaged.

The admissions to school legislation was first mooted by Ms O'Sullivan's predecessor and Labour party colleague Ruairi Quinn, who initially considered a complete ban on giving priority to children of past pupils, but later yielded and proposed a cap of 25pc.

When the bill was published earlier this year, Ms O'Sullivan said that she saw no reason to support a cap of 25pc and said she would like to see it reduced to about 10pc.

It remains to be seen what the new government will do to improve transparency and fairness in the admissions procedures, and much may depend on what party holds the education portfolio.

Irish Independent

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