New legislation to govern school admissions

Monday 02 September 2013 22.54
The legislation is aimed at curbing enrolment practices that enable the cherry-picking of students
The legislation is aimed at curbing enrolment practices that enable the cherry-picking of students

Schools could be obliged to enrol a child with learning difficulties, according to proposed legislation and regulations to govern school admission policies.

The new rules, which are published today, also outlaw the use of deposits or payments to secure entry to non fee-charging schools.

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said the proposed legislation and draft regulations are aimed at curtailing concerns that some schools cherry-pick students and that some schools' enrolment policies enable that practice.

The legislation bans practices such as the use of booking deposits and interviewing applicants or their parents.

The proposals also outlaw the operation of lengthy waiting lists.

The legislation also gives new powers to the National Educational Welfare Board and the National Council for Special Education.

Both State agencies can now instruct a school to offer an individual child a place.

However, the new regulations stop short of doing away with the controversial practice of schools favouring the children of past pupils over other applicants.

Schools that already do this can continue the practice under certain circumstances.

The Irish Traveller Movement has said this discriminates against Traveller and other children.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, the minister said the rules around enrolment and admission to schools are quite arbitrary and unfair and his proposals for reform were "fairly fundamental".

Mr Quinn said parents who were moving from town-to-town or returning from abroad were coming up against barriers to enrolling their children at local schools because waiting lists had started when children were six months old.

He said parents of children with learning difficulties were experiencing soft barriers to access and suggestions that they would be better off in another school.

The Irish Primary Principals' Network has said it welcomes the proposed legislation.

It said it will give children from disadvantaged backgrounds "an equal opportunity to be enrolled in the school of their parents' choice".

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, representing second level school leaders, also welcomed the proposals.

NAPD Director Clive Byrne said the new laws will add clarity and transparency to enrolment procedures, providing greater certainty for parents, pupils and principals in the process.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland has a number of reservations, among them the position of fee-paying schools.

The proposals now go to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education for its consideration.

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