'This is our children's future'

The community in Milltown is divided over the admissions policy of Pres Secondary School, a public meeting hears

Sinead Kelleher

A call has been made for Education Minister Joe McHugh to intervene and help change the admissions policy of Milltown Presentation Secondary School, which parents claims is pushing out local school children.

A public meeting on Wednesday night saw almost 200 people - many of them parents - come together to appeal to local TDs, including Minister Brendan Griffin, to help concerned parents meet with the Board of Management and the school principal in a bid to get them to change the current admissions policy. 

The current admissions policy allows 18 schools in the catchment area attend the school, and this includes primary schools in Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Annascaul and Cromane. A call has been made to reduce this to the seven closest schools: Faha, Castlemaine, Castledrum, Fybough, Kiltallagh, Ballyfinnane - and Nagle Rice, which is located almost beside the school.

The policy, the meeting heard, has led to pupils attending Nagle Rice Primary School being unable to get places at the local secondary school. 

This problem will be further exacerbated in the coming years due to the population increase. By 2025 it is expected that 320 pupils from the seven nearest schools will be battling out for the 120 places at the secondary school. 

These are estimated figures compiled by the parents association of Nagle Rice Primary School and  Faha National School.

The schools involved came together to organise the meeting. Anger was expressed by Mike O'Sullivan from Firies National School over their exclusion from the seven schools and the meeting as Milltown Presentation is their nearest school as well. 

The organisers of the meeting said they would meet with the parents association of the school to discuss the situation.

The lack of school places came to light this year after seven pupils at Nagle Rice Primary School had to be put on a waiting list for this September's enrolment.

"This has caused huge stress and tension," explained Nagle Rice Primary School Principal Liam Fell.

It emerged that the secondary school had changed the criteria on their admissions policy, which formerly put the 18 catchment schools as number two on the criteria for entry to the school. This is now number six on the criteria.

Therefore, these pupils have been deprioritised, according to parents, who say other students are getting preference, including those with siblings attending the school inside and outside the catchment area; and students of parents who attended the school, no matter where they live. 

This has led to students coming from Killarney to the school, while local school children can't get a place and will have to be bussed elsewhere, the meeting heard. 

The effect of the change is now being felt, and parents are calling for the changes to be reserved and the number of catchment schools to be reduced to ensure that local children can attend their local schools. The school has defended their policy, and it is line with the Education Act. They have also refused to meet or respond to parents and elected representatives to discuss the issue. Their policy, they say, is to ensure fair access to all children in the area, the meeting was told.  

"Our community is divided. Children have a right to go to their local school," said Michelle, a parent from Faha National School. The parents association of Nagle Rice Primary School, led by chairperson Glenda Christie, organised the public meeting, which heard about the concerns of parents. 

"It is crazy that my daughter can see the school from her bedroom, but she may not be able to go there," said one parent.

Parents appealed to the school board to explain their policy change, and called on them to open up dialogue between all the parties involved in this isuue.

The concern over secondary school places is also affecting local children's mental health, as they fear being separated from their classmates due to the admission policy of the school, the meeting heard.

Mr Fell said that there are seven schools in the local parishes of Milltown and Listry and Keel/Killtalagh and that these should be given priority. 

Minister Griffin said that he and the Education Minister Joe McHugh had met with the principal and that a review is ongoing. However, he did not say if this would lead to any changes, and he said that a number of factors are at play. 

Principal of Faha National School, Jerry Fitzgerald, said that solutions needs to be found and he called on local TDS and councillors to call on the Education Minister to 'compel' all local secondary schools to work  together under section 66 of the Admissions act. However, Cllr Toireasa Ferris felt that legally this was not possible. 

Parents also want consistent enrolment in all schools to ensure that no student is holding multiple school spaces. 

Cllr Damian Quigg and Cllr John Francis Flynn both called for a meeting with the Board of Management, the elected representatives and the school principal to see if a solution can be found within the local community which is facing 'a crisis',  according to those attending the meeting.