Principals at the five Educate Together schools in Trim, Tramore, Tuam, New Ross, and Castlebar will have breathe a sigh of relief yesterday as confirmation came from the Department of Education that they can grow like any other small developing school, by offering places to 26 junior infants next year.
The department has lifted the unusual restriction they had placed on the schools, to limit enrolment to just 13 children. Public pressure, at what the Educate Together schools regarded as a discriminatory cap, will have played a large part in this u-turn.
Parents will also be breathing a sigh of relief; the parents in those towns who didn’t want to send their children to the existing primary schools in their areas - all Catholic bar one small Church of Ireland school in Trim.
But this policy reversal comes late in the day. By now the vast majority of schools will have offered places for next year. Many parents whose children fell outside of the first 13 on the Educate Together enrolment lists will have been offered, and will have accepted, places in Catholic schools in the towns.
Many will have paid deposits. They may even have told their children that they are going to that school. That’s a big deal for a four-year-old.
RTÉ News spoke to one parent in this position. She has paid €80 to secure a place offered in another school. She had no option. Now it looks like her child will be offered a place at her local Educate Together school. She will take it she says, but she's lost her €80.
RTÉ News also spoke to parents in Tramore and in Trim who said they felt that they were being treated as "second class citizens", just for attempting to assert their right to not to have their children educated in a particular religious ethos.
The enrolment restriction has been removed, for next year's intake, but the underlying problem remains.
The department’s reversal only applies to this coming September. In its letter to patron body Educate Together it makes clear that all five schools "will need to manage their enrolment levels in the context of available accommodation".
All five schools are in temporary accommodation that severely restricts their ability to grow naturally, as other full stream schools do, by taking in up to 26 children every year.
The temporary accommodation and the uncertainly as to the schools' future homes is also acting as a deterrent to some parents who might otherwise choose a multi-denominational education for their children.
Trim Educate Together, for instance, is in a former golf club house, more than 4kms outside the town. The road to the school is a country road with no footpaths.
So parents need a car, and they need to be able to make the journey twice a day, or find someone else who can. There's no walking or cycling to that school.
A vacant former Catholic school building in the town centre has been earmarked for it, but with only four classrooms that's already too small.
In Tramore, the Educate Together school is in a former HSE building. By September the school will have outgrown that accommodation.
The department's proposal is that Educate Together sources additional accommodation nearby which will mean this still small new school will be split over two campuses. The school is opposed to this.
The other schools too are in temporary accommodation - a former Teagasc building in the case of New Ross.
None of them has any clear idea as to when they will have a permanent home and where that home will be.
The Department of Education letter allows for the schools to grow next September, but there's no mention of the years after that.
It states that "enrolment levels should continue to be managed within the constraints of available accommodation".
The letter talks of "the need for all school principals in such areas to work together in close co-operation to ensure that school provision will best meet local needs".
The Department proposes "an early meeting of relevant patron bodies to discuss long-term planning of primary schools" in Tuam. It mentions an empty eight-classroom school that’s been identified in New Ross.
The plan was that these schools would be housed in Catholic school buildings freed up by amalgamations, as part of a so-called 'divestment' process. But thus far that hasn’t worked out.
There's a longstanding and widespread acceptance that diversity of educational provision is long overdue. This letter states that "the Department is fully committed" to "supporting diversity".
But not for the first time senior education figures in education are again remarking on the lack of political will surrounding the issue.
Meanwhile these schools feel unsupported. "We’re being told to negotiate locally (for buildings)" said one principal, "but how can you negotiate when you’ve nothing to give in return?"