Friday 30 September 2016

The ties that bind and a vision for education

Published 07/04/2015 | 02:30

"Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan’s intimation that she is intent on revising the so-called “old boy’s rule”, whereby the children of past pupils are given precedence in enrolment in some schools, is timely"

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan's intimation that she is intent on revising the so-called "old boy's rule", whereby the children of past pupils are given precedence in enrolment in some schools, is timely.

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With the focus on 1916 and the Proclamation, and all that goes with it, treating all of our children equally should be to the forefront of all Government and social policy. The Education Minister, as we report today, is seeking to cut the old-school-tie admission link back to just 10pc. This will limit entrance to only 10pc of the children of former pupils. The perception that privilege or favour should be given to some pupils over others purely on the grounds of past association is hard to justify in the context of significant State support, and intense pressure on scarce resources.

That private schools have done the State proud is not in question. Ties of tradition and links built up over generations count for something, but they are not compatible with ever-shrinking resources and ever-expanding populations.

It is a fallacy that private schools are the preserve of the elite - many hard-pressed families have made real sacrifices to place their children in a chosen school.

The real issue, however, is that there should be more schools, and more places across the board. Just as standards of education should be equal and accessible to all, and not just those who can afford to pay.

We are some distance from this point, but the minister is committed to bridging the gap, and her announcement is a necessary step towards doing so.

One can anticipate a considerable rear-guard action from the fee-paying sector in an attempt to defend the status quo. Over years, a shameful failure to invest in education meant that the deficit was often made up by religious orders, who filled the vacuum left by the State. They may now also see a fall in funding from past pupils when the new quota is introduced. No doubt there will be much heated debate before the chalk dust settles on what is bound to be a divisive battle.

Yet as society changes, so too tradition must yield. The needs of the pupil are paramount.

As John F Kennedy once said: "Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource."

Irish Independent

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