Thursday 17 January 2019

School ‘old boy network’ privilege to be wiped out

Minister for education, Jan O'Sullivan, TD, at the Irish Primary Principals Network Annual Conference 2015 at the Citywest Hotel, Dublin
Minister for education, Jan O'Sullivan, TD, at the Irish Primary Principals Network Annual Conference 2015 at the Citywest Hotel, Dublin
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Schools will only be allowed to reserve one in 10 places for the children of past pupils under plans to be announced today by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

The move is set to spark a massive backlash from the country’s most influential ‘old boys’ networks.

Under the plan, schools will also be required to make an explicit statement in their admission policy that they will not discriminate on grounds such as sexual orientation, disability or race, special educational needs, or against Travellers.

Ms O’Sullivan’s clampdown on the ‘parent rule’ goes much further than proposals by her predecessor Ruairi Quinn, who wanted to set a 25pc limit.

Writing in today’s Irish Independent, Mr Quinn’s former special adviser John Walshe predicts that Ms O’Sullivan is “about to set off the most almighty row between Labour and Fine Gael, whose ministers will be lobbied intensely by the fee-paying schools sector”.

Ms O’Sullivan will explain her thinking on the ‘parent rule’ when she addresses the conference of the Irish National Teachers Organisation today.

She will say that her view is that a “cap of perhaps 10pc of all school places is as high as such a threshold should be set”.

The Admissions to School bill aims to bring more fairness and structure into the enrolment process at both primary and post-primary level, including a ban on schools charging parents to apply for places.

Other significant changes include awarding new powers to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the Child and Family Agency, Tulsa, to designate a school for a child who has no place.

But the minister's desire to slash to 10pc the places a school may guarantee for children of past pupils will provoke an outcry from certain schools, including those in the fee-paying sector that place a high value on social networks.

Such a limit would only come into play if a school has more applications than the number of places it is offering.

Ms O'Sullivan is not planning to impose any restrictions on a school's right to enrol brother or sisters of pupils, or past pupils.

Past pupils of two of the most elite schools in the country, Blackrock College and Belvedere College, many of them in the legal profession, have already started high-profile campaigns against any move to limit the school's freedom to enrol their children.

Around one in five schools cannot meet the demand for places and are currently allowed to use their own range of selection criteria, such as family links and designated feeder schools, to prioritise applications. There are no legal restrictions on the number of children of past pupils that a school may admit and many see strong inter-generational family links as key to building a sense of community.

In February, a Traveller boy lost a Supreme Court case taken after he missed out on a place at a Tipperary school due to the 'parent rule'.

Ms O'Sullivan hopes that the bill will pass through the Oireachtas before the summer break. Detailed regulations will then be published to give effect to the changes. Ms O'Sullivan will tell teachers today that she is happy to listen to all views on the admission rules.


The new law will prohibit the charging of payments or contributions as part of the admission process or for continued enrolment, other than for fee-charging and boarding schools.

Another provision could require schools in an area to co-operate with each other in relation to their admissions processes.

Among the other criteria that schools will be prohibited from applying in the selection process are occupation or final status of parents; a student's academic ability; the date on which an application for admission was received.

Catholic and other denominational schools will also be allowed to continue to give preference to children of their faith.

Schools will also be permitted to give priority to children on the basis of their date of birth, catchment area, designated feeder schools and being a son or daughter of a staff member.

Irish Independent

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