Thursday 22 March 2018

School launches legal action as row over admission policy

Stock photo
Stock photo

Tim Healy

A DUBLIN secondary school says an education appeals committee was wrong in finding its board of management could not refuse a place for a girl because her application for admission was made under a 2005 enrolment policy, the High Court heard.

Muckross Park College, Donnybrook, claims the appeals committee, set up by the Department of Education and Science, was fundamentally incorrect when it decided the school had a place for the girl under the enrolment policy in place in 2005 when her admission application was submitted by her father and when she was just two months old. 

The school changed its enrolment policy in 2011, the court heard. 

The board of management of Muckross has brought the challenge over the decision of an appeals committee which was established by the Department under the 1998 Education Act to deal with appeals over matters like enrolment refusals and suspensions.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan granted leave to bring judicial review proceedings, following an ex-parte application (one side only represented), to Maguerite Bolger SC, on behalf of the board of management of Muckross.

Ms Bolger said the matter arose out of an application for admission by the father in 2005 when the girl was around two months old.

The father was told at that time his daughter was 86th on the enrolment list even though it would be 2017 before she would go to the school.   There are 120 new places available each year in Muckross which is heavily over subscribed, counsel said.

Under current rules, parents are informed three years in advance of admission whether they fell within the priority group for places and last year the father of this child was told she did not, counsel said.

The school had changed its enrolment policy in 2011, including broadening it out to give priority to girls attending identified local national schools. 

The school also has a policy of giving priority to daughters of past pupils. The Supreme Court recently upheld this policy as lawful although it seems there is an intention by the Government to change the law in that regard, counsel said.

When the girl in this case failed to get a place, her father appealed that decision under Section 29 of the 1998 Education Act whereby the secretary of the Department appoints a committee to hear the appeal.

That "Section 29 Committee" came to the conclusion she had an entitlement to a place under the enrolment policy in place in 2005 and it was also not open to the board to change the way it implemented the policy in relation to this case.

Ms Bolger said that decision cannot stand up on any reasonable reading of the 2005 policy.   It was always going to be the case that the position the girl held in 2005 was going to be diluted by new applications over the following ten years in which some of those applicants had higher priority by virtue of the other enrolment criteria.

It was also their case the board was entitled to change its policy at any time as long as it was within the law.

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