Secondary schools to oppose the 10pc 'parent rule' cap
Secondary schools will lobby against Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan's move to limit the number of children of past pupils that they can admit to a maximum of one in 10.
Ms O'Sullivan has announced her intention in draft legislation, aimed at introducing more fairness and transparency to the admissions process for primary and post-primary schools.
But the body representing 380 secondary schools insists "family cohesion in terms of schooling and support for a school with a particular tradition and ethos adds greatly to the sense of community, which is at the centre of school life".
Capping enrolments of children of past pupils - the so-called 'parent rule' - is one of a range of measures under consideration in order to eliminate or minimise the impact of selection criteria used to prioritise applications.
Such restrictions would only come into play where a school is facing more demand than it has available places.
The Joint Managerial Body (JMB) said it welcomed the commitment in the Admissions to School Bill to inclusion and equity of access, but also warned that the changes could result in the Department of Education "micromanaging" the enrolment process.
The JMB speaks for the management of more than half of the country's second-level schools - those that traditionally were, or continue to be, run by the religious. JMB general secretary Ferdia Kelly said that the issue of parental choice was a critical consideration in the debate and "we must be very careful to strike a balance between parental choice and regulation".
He welcomed the provision to allow boards of management to continue to prioritise siblings, but said they were concerned at the proposal to place a cap of 10pc on the number of children of past pupils that a school may enrol in any given year.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland has given the draft bill a cautious welcome, particularly the plan to abolish waiting lists and cap admissions for children of past pupils.
But Immigrant Council chief executive Brian Killoran said the proposals would require detailed examination and should form part of a wider National Integration Strategy.
He said that, to date, a piecemeal approach and lack of leadership on integration had created divisions which could last for a generation.
Mr Killoran said: "Our classrooms are suffering because of the failure of successive governments to prioritise integration. In many schools, children of a migrant background are effectively been excluded by policies which favour others."
Sinn Féin education spokesman Jonathan O'Brien said the bill did "not address the difficulties for parents whose children cannot access schools in their locality because of the retention of a provision that schools will be allowed to give preference to children of a particular faith over others".
Government sources tried to play down the prospect of Fine Gael-Labour conflict about the new legislation this side of a General Election. One source said that the proportion of places to be reserved for children of past pupils would not be decided for quite some time.
"Firstly, the legislation has to go through the Oireachtas, then there will be consultation between the interested parties before regulations are drafted on this issue. Those regulations will then go back to the Government," the source told the Irish Independent.
This could mean the issue could be undecided until after the General Election.
Another Leinster House source questioned whether the legislation could be put through the Dáil and Seanad before the summer recess, as Ms O'Sullivan suggested. Such an eventuality would definitely delay a hard decision on this tricky issue, which has the potential to raise serious tensions between the two Coalition parties.
A source close to the Government said the bill cleared Cabinet last Tuesday without any conflict.
But one Fine Gael representative, councillor Neale Richmond, said the draft legislation - citing the 10pc limit for past pupils - was extremely disappointing, especially as the previous education minister, Ruairi Quinn, had put the figure at 25pc. "A secondary school is a vital part of any community and it is important for many families, and indeed the schools, that entire families are involved in the school," Mr Richmond said.