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Principals may know best on school admissions

In some areas of the country it is one of the greatest difficulties facing parents. How do they get their children into the school of their choice? In extreme cases over the past decade, as a result of lousy planning, children have struggled to get into any school at all. Fortunately, these occurrences have been rare.

The Irish Primary Principals' Network has made a constructive suggestion about tackling the enrolment issue at both primary and second-level. The principals propose an annual CAO-style application process for schools.

Schools would be clustered into catchment areas and parents would rank schools in order of preference. They would then be allocated a place, according to supply and demand.

The proposal chimes with Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's plans to outlaw enrolment policies that are now seen as discriminatory and outdated.

Stories of mothers putting the names of their offspring down for popular schools when they have barely left the maternity ward are part of legend, particularly on the southside of Dublin.

Ruairi Quinn and the primary principals want to outlaw this type of waiting list, arguing that it discriminates against families who have only recently arrived in an area.

They also want to stop schools picking pupils by brains and breeding. Close family attachments can create strong community ties to a school, but giving priority to children of past pupils can also create a closed shop.

In these cash-strapped times, Ruairi Quinn may have one reservation about a CAO-type system, however. Will it create an expensive tier of bureaucracy that we can ill afford, and who will pay for it? An unintended consequence of the principals' proposal could also be league tables of popular schools.

On the plus side, parents would not have to deal with admission systems in schools that can be haphazard, and occasionally downright unfair.

The principals' plan might streamline enrolments, but it will not offer a meaningful solution in areas where demand for certain schools outstrips supply.

The Government ultimately needs to fund the type of modern school with high standards that parents want. Only then will the admission logjams in certain areas be cleared.

Irish Independent