Sunday 19 November 2017

Schools in firing line over their enrolment policies

Gearoid O Bradaigh: call for new and fairer system to be put in place
Gearoid O Bradaigh: call for new and fairer system to be put in place

John Walshe and Katherine Donnelly

SCHOOLS that give priority to sons or daughters of teachers when enrolling pupils could be the next to find themselves running foul of the law.

School admissions policies have been thrown into the spotlight following an Equality Tribunal ruling that a secondary school discriminated against a Traveller boy.

John Stokes was excluded from the Christian Brothers High School, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, because his father was not a past pupil -- one of the criteria used by the school for prioritising applications.

An expert said last night that discrimination in school admissions policies was widespread and had been a "timebomb waiting to go off".

Gearoid O Bradaigh, a barrister and former chief executive officer of Co Westmeath VEC, said the only way to solve the problem was for schools to conduct a lottery for places.

"That is the only way to be fair to all," said Mr O Bradaigh. He said there was an obligation on the Department Education to draw up regulations on what ought to be in admissions policies.

Currently schools are free to draw up their own enrolment rules, subject to being compatible with the law, including equality legislation, which prohibits discrimination on nine grounds, including membership of the Travelling community.

Mr O Bradaigh said apart from giving priority to children of former pupils, other criteria included in some admissions policies, such as favouring children of their own teachers, or siblings of existing pupils could also run foul of the legislation.


"These are all extremely discriminatory. Most people who are newcomers, Travellers, or happen to be the eldest person in a family can find themselves excluded. You cannot be a lesser member of a community because you don't have a brother or sister," he added.

Meanwhile, the Christian Brothers High School is considering appealing the ruling to the Circuit Court.

The school was legally represented at the hearing and its legal team is considering the outcome before the board of management takes any decision about an appeal.

Irish Independent

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