Schools face losing control of enrolment in radical new plans
SCHOOLS could lose control of the enrolment of pupils under new rules being planned by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.
Mr Quinn wants to ban a range of practices that discriminate, either directly or indirectly, against certain children.
He would underpin the changes with regulations or legislation and schools would face sanctions for breaching the rules.
While there was a broad welcome across the education sector for the debate, not everyone shared the minister's priorities for change and finding agreement could prove difficult.
Schools that favoured children of past pupils, or their own teachers or members of their board of management, would be targeted under new regulations.
The overhaul of admissions policies could also see an end to the first-come, first-served practice that can exclude families who are new to an area.
The minister also wants a relaxation of policies that can restrict entry to an all-Irish gaelscoil to children of parents who are fluent in the language.
Mr Quinn also wants to end the "cherrypicking" of bright students and introduce a fairer sharing out of pupils with special needs.
He said there is a need for more transparency in enrolments and at the heart of his proposals was the question "can we find a fairer way for all?".
He said he wanted to debate and consult with school managers, teacher unions, parents and other interested parties by the end of October before taking final decisions.
The multi-denominational body, Educate Together and the Gaelscoileanna movement both called for more schools under their umbrellas to deal with the demand that they encounter.
Educate Together, which relies heavily on the first-come first-served rule, said all enrolment policies became exclusion policies when there are insufficient school places to meet demand.
"Educate Together has consistently sought to create more places by extending existing schools or opening new Educate Together schools. The organisation considers this the only appropriate response when parents are unable to obtain places in an Educate Together school," he said.
Micheal O Broin, president of Gaelscoileanna, said one of the reasons their schools needed an enrolment policy was to cope with the demand for an Irish language education.
Ferdia Kelly, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body representing over 400 voluntary secondary schools, said there was a need to be "very careful to strike a balance between parental choice and regulation".
Irish Vocational Education Association general secretary Michael Moriarty said it was a long overdue development.
He added: "Hopefully, it will lead to the putting in place of a regulatory framework capable of accommodating the needs of all families in an increasingly diverse Ireland."
The Teachers' Union of Ireland said certain schools had been facilitated by the department's past inaction in openly flouting education and equality legislation by actively discouraging those students who had special educational needs from attending their schools.