Reform of CAO process for disabled students
Students from families who can afford to pay up to €700 for a psychologist's report to support their case for entry to college on lower CAO points are set the lose the massive advantage they enjoy.
Radical changes in the scheme offering a points waiver, and college supports, for CAO applicants with a disability or learning difficulty, such as dyslexia, are being rolled out over the next two years.
A broadening of the avenues available to students under the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) - away from exclusive use of medical criteria - will make it easier and more affordable to meet eligibility requirements.
The CAO opens this week for 2016, when some of the reforms are coming into force, including a new educational impact statement, where a student and the school set out how a disability has affected their second-level education.
The other key change for 2016 may allow a GP - rather than a consultant - to verify that a diagnosed condition, such as a mental health issue or a blood disorder, impacted on a student's academic performance.
Another new measure will prioritise applicants who are eligible under both DARE and its sister scheme, HEAR (Higher Education Access Route), for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
The change that will benefit the single biggest group of DARE applicants - those with specific learning difficulties (SLD), such as dyslexia - will follow in 2017.
This will see the abolition of the requirement to produce an up-to-date (no more than three-years-old) professional assessment - which can cost between €400 and €700 - and is expected to lead to an increase of about 1,000 SLD students being eligible for the scheme each year.
Shocking figures, produced as part of a review, revealed that 21pc of DARE places in 2014 went to students from 15 fee-paying schools - only 2pc of all post-primary schools.
From 2017, SLD applicants will be able to use a psychologist's report of any age - many children get these in primary school - or may rely on the fact that they received a support when sitting the Leaving Certificate.
There is always a fall-off between the numbers who initially apply for DARE and those who produce the supporting documentation - the cost of getting a professional report is regarded as a major obstacle.
This year, there were 4,503 initial DARE applicants, but only 3,305 completed the application process.
Grace Edge, DARE HEAR project manager at the Irish Universities Association, said the aim was to assist students with academic potential but who are most marginalised in terms of their chances of going to college.