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Saturday 24 June 2017

Winning place often depends on baptisms, bloodlines and brains

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

BAPTISMS, bloodline and brains -- three things that can play a big role in deciding whether a child gets into a school of choice, or not.

Schools are subject to equality legislation, with exemptions allowing the protection of religious ethos by giving preference to students of a particular denomination.

For about 80pc of schools -- which can cater for all those applying for a place -- there is no issue. But for the other 20pc, which employ a range of selection criteria to decide a pecking order when they are over-subscribed, problems can arise.

Typically, a Catholic primary school will give priority to siblings of existing pupils, followed by Catholic children of the parish, Catholic children outside the parish, non-Catholic children of the parish and non-Catholic children outside the parish.

The preference given to Catholic children is the reason many otherwise non-practising parents baptise their child.

By contrast, multi-denominational or inter-denominational schools, such as those under the patronage of Educate Together or a vocational education committees, have an entry policy of first-come, first-served.

This policy is not without its drawbacks for families who have recently moved into an area.

By and large, most second-level pupils attend their local school, but other issues also come into play, such as the famous 'old school tie' -- the practice of giving priority to children of past pupils, teachers or a benefactor.

It is most often associated with fee-paying schools, where parents are buying into a social network as much as an education, but it is more than that.

In the age of the so-called league tables on college entry, academic performance and the record of individual schools in sending pupils to third-level can also weigh heavily.

Schools deny cherrypicking on the grounds of ability, but there is evidence that those with an open-to-all culture, such as in the vocational sector, have a higher proportion of pupils with special needs and a lower placing in those tables.

It may not be spelled out, but some parents have been subtly told that another school would be better suited to their child's needs.

Parents who feel unfairly treated by a school's enrolment practice do have the right to appeal -- although the results have been mixed.

Irish Independent

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