Mixed emotions for parents in lottery for school places
Published 26/03/2010 | 05:00
A GARDA was called in yesterday to referee a lottery for school places in a commuter-belt community whose population exploded during the boom years.
The schools crisis in Gorey, Co Wexford, has left at least 45 pupils without a second-level place for next September.
Some parents were reduced to tears as their long-held assumption of a place for their child in Gorey Community School evaporated.
Most of the parents involved do not have an alternative school to which to send their children because, for generations, Gorey was the automatic choice for second level.
For many families, even if the next nearest school had available places, it could be a considerable distance away and involve a car journey.
Some parents are now preparing to appeal the school's refusal to enrol their pupils with the Department of Education.
At 1,600 pupils, Gorey Community School is already the biggest in the country, and it cannot cope with the extra demand this year -- and instead held a lottery for the first time to fill its final places.
The development of educational infrastructure has lagged behind the proliferation of new houses and the arrival of new families in Gorey and surrounding areas of north Wexford.
While new primary schools opened, the latest estimate for a new second-level school, promised since 2006, is September 2012.
Local Fianna Fail councillor Malcolm Byrne, who has organised a public meeting in the town tonight, is pushing to have the proposed new school opened in temporary accommodation next September to cater for the surplus.
The community school has a cap of 270 on the number of new pupils it enrols each year. But this year demand has risen to 315 and is set to grow.
The school was originally built for 850. But despite the construction of additional classrooms, principal Michael Finn said he could not expand numbers any further on health and safety grounds.
The school's enrolment policy gives priority to siblings and then to pupils of up to 17 primary schools, ranked according to distance from the community school.
"Unfortunately, because of the huge number of applicants, we cannot accept all of the students who are in our catchment area, who would normally have no difficulty in getting a place," Mr Finn told the Irish Independent.
He sent a letter to parents of 45 children this week advising them the school was not in a position to offer a place for September.
All he could do was invite them to attend yesterday's lottery, which was conducted by a local garda.
The lottery filled a small number of places and decided the waiting-list ranking of disappointed applicants.
Mr Finn said the situation had not developed overnight and the Department of Education was aware of the demand.
The school's enrolment policy accords the lowest priority to pupils from St Mary's National School, Ballygarret, which is outside the catchment area, although it has a long tradition of sending pupils to Gorey.
But parents from the area have been fighting a campaign to ensure places for their children in the school.
In anticipation of enrolment difficulties for 2010, last year parents appealed under Section 29 of the Education Act -- which provides for challenges to a school's refusal to enrol -- to the Department of Education.
The appeals were deactivated after they received a letter from former Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe assuring them that Ballygarret pupils would continue to be treated as part of the catchment area for Gorey Community School pending the opening of a new school and a review of catchments.
Courtney Masterson from Ballycanew was one of the lottery winners yesterday. Her relieved mother Deborah said she was delighted that Courtney had secured a place in the school for September.
Cathal Lee, son of Edel Finan, chairwoman, of Ballygarret Education Action Group (BEAG), was yesterday placed 24th on the waiting list for the Gorey school.
Ms Finan said: "We feel we are being denied a right to choose an education for our children."