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Plans aiming to end yearly nightmare of waiting lists

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The standard of reading and maths has improved in Irish schools.

The standard of reading and maths has improved in Irish schools.

The standard of reading and maths has improved in Irish schools.

NEW legislation in the pipeline aims to end waiting lists for admissions to primary school.

The draft Admissions to Schools Bill was published last September, as well as draft regulations for discussion ahead of enacting the groundbreaking legislation.

The move aims to curb the practice of cherry picking students. The legislation also proposes to ban non-fee-paying schools from seeking deposits or payments to secure places.

The Bill is expected to be published before this Dail session, where it will debated.

It will apply to all 4,000 primary and post-primary schools and the proposed regulations aim to underpin a fair enrolment process, precluding school places from being allocated on the basis of waiting lists.

POLICY

Labour Deputy Joanna Tuffy, who is chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, told the Herald that the policy of first come, first served, operated by some schools might seem very egalitarian, but in practice that isn't the case.

"I know of people who have lost out to that system," she said.

"I was familiar with a woman who had come from another country. She couldn't get a place in the school right beside her and had to walk 40 minutes to a school in another part of Lucan because she didn't know that you had to put your name down."

Under the draft proposals, schools would not be allowed to accept applications for admission before October 1 of the preceding year, with certain exceptions.

However, there may be a derogation to allow schools to clear their waiting lists for a set period of years.

"We made a public call for submissions and we got over 50 written submissions," Deputy Tuffy said.

"We then held hearings inviting both groups and individuals, and there is just a huge diversity of issues being raised."

Dublin South East TD, Eoghan Murphy, said that the current enrolment system is an inefficient one.

"It is stressful for parents and difficult for schools to manage", he said.

Schools trying to manage the number of pupils they are going to have, don't find out until the first day of term how many are going to be in the class, he said.

Under the new proposals, each year everyone will have the same chance.

"The idea is that every school has a transparent admissions policy, and has an open application process, with standard timelines and no waiting lists," the Deputy said.

"If you move up from Cork or you have been living in the constituency for 20 years, your children will have the same chance of getting into the local school.

"Each year, at the same time, schools will say they are open for enrolment, outline the criteria, and outline the closing date for admission. Then they make an offer, or not. People will have a timeline in which to accept that offer," he added.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection has held three hearings on the proposed legislation, with input from interested parties including parents.

The draft regulations are being considered by the committee, and it will draw up a report for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

It's hoped the legislation will be passed before the summer recess.

fdillon@ herald.ie


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