It seems to many of the principals to whom I have spoken that if the current proposals on school admissions are implemented a valuable and historic opportunity will be lost.
Limerick has grappled with the issue of educational inequality for years. It is the only area where a common applications system applies, arising from an intolerable situation in which children found themselves without any second-level place.
The then minister insisted that all schools in Limerick city operate a common enrolment system, administered by Limerick Education Centre, the purpose of which was to ensure that all children had a school place. All students are placed, eventually, but it has also brought about considerable anguish and uncertainty among parents and children. If children do not get their first/second preference, they may be left with their least-favoured school – and travelling up to 12 miles from home by private bus.
Participant schools are accorded a certain level of protection from any perception of perpetuating inequality. The reality is much different. Schools still operate independently in terms of their admission criteria, and can decide their selection criteria with no independent scrutiny. It is only an issue for the so-called good schools, as they invariably have a surfeit of applications over places.
Some favour children living in certain affluent parishes, so-called traditional feeder schools, brothers/sisters of current or past pupils, sons/daughters of past pupils and so on, and finally, 'all others.' In effect, very few places exist in this category. So, some children have right of entry although they live some distance from the school and others are refused, even if they live close by, or attend the local feeder primary.
Surely it is the right of every parent to send their child to their local school, if they so choose? By ignoring this, the proposed legislation gives free rein to schools to continue what is effectively educational apartheid.
There is no justification for giving preference to siblings of former pupils, or indeed children of past pupils.
The proposed limit of 25pc is a capitulation to vested interests. Surely proximity to a school should have a higher ranking than whether a child's father/mother attended? This is a means to reproduce a social class and cherry-pick the best students. Who will oversee this 25pc, and where is the transparency? Some schools will continue to favour the socially advantaged, academically gifted, or those with exceptional sporting prowess.
In the context of the Limerick Area Common Application System, I believe that the minister should insist on a common admissions policy across all participant schools, with geographical location claiming first priority, after brothers/sisters of existing students. A three-mile radius of any particular school in a city location, or, perhaps, 10 miles in a rural area, would be reasonable. Where there are too many applications for that school, other priorities can be addressed.
The minister has included the right of the Department of Education and Skills to impose a similar system elsewhere. This is to be welcomed. However, unless these fundamental flaws are addressed, the current highly iniquitous system will be preserved under a veneer of fairness.
The minister praises the "value of tradition". But tradition can be merely an excuse to maintain the status quo.
Noel Malone is Principal of Colaiste Chiarain Croom, Co Limerick