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Thursday 23 January 2020

'Why am I different?'- Boy (12) only person in his class not accepted into secondary school

Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

A 12-year-old Traveller boy is the only person in his class who was not accepted into a secondary school this year.

Paddy Flynn (12) should be starting secondary school this week along with his primary school classmates but he’s the only one who has been refused a place in his local secondary school.

Paddy, who is the only Traveller in his class, previously attended De La Salle primary school in Ballyfermot and was hoping to attend the De La Salle secondary school (St John’s) this week.

The young boy lives with his family at Labre Park at a halting site near the school and, according to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, his application was refused because it was late.

“All of his class got in bar Paddy. What’s different between Paddy and the rest of them?” Paddy’s mother Ann told Morning Ireland.

“He doesn’t know anyone in other schools. All of his friends are from Ballyfermot School. It’s awful when you don’t see your child getting in.”

The school said it is within its right to refuse Paddy’s application. Its website clearly states that late applications may not be accepted.

They told Morning Ireland it’s the responsibility of parents to ensure their child receives an education and that they visited all local primary schools and gave applications to the children.

The primary school also said it made lots of efforts to help Paddy’s parents and said there was confusion over which school Paddy wanted to attend.

Paddy’s parents, who can’t read or write, said they never got an application form, didn’t know they had to apply and weren’t aware of last November’s deadline.

Department of Education figures show that 30pc of Traveller children have been disappearing out of the education system between sixth class and 2nd year.

Lorraine McMahon from the Ballyfermot Traveller Action Project told Morning Ireland “it’s not good enough”.

“When we’re talking about equality of access and equality of outcomes that equality has to begin with recognising that they’re not on a level playing field so saying that we’re very fair and we treat kids all equally, there has to be a recognition that all children aren’t coming from the same starting point and particularly for Traveller families working in Labre Park. It is not a level playing field.”

She said austerity has hit Travellers more than any other group. She explained there used to be posts known as ‘visiting teachers’ for Travellers and their job included liaising with families, schools and other support services but those posts were abolished.

“When I came to Ballyfermot Traveller Action Project in 2009, Labre Park had just seen the first two Traveller girls from Labre Park complete their Leaving Cert and the first Traveller boy from Labre Park completed his Junior Cert.

“It had become the norm for Traveller girls to remain in secondary school up until the Leaving Cert with a range of supports in place and with Traveller boys it was becoming the norm to stay in school to at least second year and third year and transfer was becoming automatic from primary to secondary school.

“Now it has gone right back. We are struggling to keep Traveller girls in school until Junior Cert and we do not have any Traveller boy locally in second year in secondary school.”

St John’s secondary school is taking 38 first years this week and said its first year classes are now full.

Since his rejection Paddy has applied to other schools but they have been turned down too.

“All the class are going. How am I different to the rest of them?” Paddy said on Morning Ireland.

He said he liked primary school and his favourite subject was maths.

“I want to meet new friends and play about at lunch break.”

Paddy was recently diagnosed with a mild general learning difficulty but 17 years ago his aunt Sally was also diagnosed with the learning difficulty and is about the graduate from Maynooth University with a 2:1 degree.

“When I was in primary school I got the exact same diagnosis. They always held me back. I always had this thing in my head that I couldn’t go any further because I had a learning difficulty,” Sally told Morning Ireland.

She praised supports from the youth service that “believed and pushed” her.

“Paddy should have the right to go to St John’s in Ballyfermot like the rest of his classmates,” she said.

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