Twenty-six Limerick children have received no offer of a second level school place for next September from any of the city's schools.
Under Limerick city's unique CAO-style Common Application System (CAS), offers were posted to families yesterday and were due to arrive in homes this morning.
However, amid unprecedented demand this year, RTÉ News has learned that applications relating to 26 children have been rejected, because Limerick city's schools are at capacity.
The news follows a warning earlier this month from the Department of Education that it was anticipating "significant challenges" in areas across the country in ensuring sufficient school places were available for 2023, particularly at post-primary level.
While there are capacity pressures across the country, Limerick's unique enrolment system makes it possible to quantify the scale of its shortage.
The Limerick figure was initially much higher, but almost 50 additional places have been created in recent days in a small number of schools to try and meet the demand.
This afternoon, the Department said it is in "close engagement with patrons and school authorities in the relevant pressure areas, with a view to establishing the true extent of any capacity issues and to put any required solutions in place to facilitate the provision of the requisite school places".
"The Department is aware that 26 students will not receive an offer this week of a place in post-primary school in Limerick for September 2023," a statement from the Department said.
"Schools in Limerick City have already increased their available places by over 100, including 44 additional places made available in the last week.
"It is expected that some students who have been offered places instead accept places in other non-city schools. It is likely that this will free up places that will meet the needs of some or all of the students currently without a place.
"Nevertheless, the Department is working with school patrons to put a contingency solution in place to ensure that there are sufficient places available in the city.
"The Department has identified a school which will be in a position to accommodate an additional first year class intake with the support of the Department, should it be required.
"There will be further clarity on this in the coming weeks. Families can be assured that any necessary solution will be delivered so that all of the children currently without a place can be accommodated."
Limerick families await outcome of city's unique school entry system
The department has said the current rise in the second level school-going population is likely to peak in the next year or two.
It is the result of a demographic 'bulge' that has been moving through the education system. There are also an additional 1,000 Ukrainian children due to transfer from primary to post-primary this year.
The Limerick common application system includes all of the city's schools as well as two county Limerick schools a considerable distance away. The 17 schools in the scheme also include one that is fee-charging.
Parents must tick a minimum of 11 schools in order of preference, otherwise their application is not accepted.
In practice this means they must list 11 out of 13 available options, because four of the city's schools are boys only and four are girls only.
Every year a number of families are offered a school that was close to the bottom of their 'choices'. This means they are offered a place at a school that they may actively not want their child to attend.
This year the scheme received 2,114 applications, of which 2,088 were successful. 90% of applicants will today be offered a place in the school that was their first choice. Just over 4% will get their second or third choice.
The families of the 26 children will each receive 11 rejection letters tomorrow morning, one from each school that they listed on the city's common school application form.
Under legislation governing school admissions every school applied to is obliged to respond, and Limerick's unique CAO-style system obliges families to list 11 schools out of 17 in order of preference.
Across the city this afternoon children were going home from school apprehensive of the news that awaited them, because for most the morning post, with a school offer or not, had come after they had left for school.
Describing the impact of waiting for news of a school place on the children in her care, Salesians Primary school principal Claire Rea, told RTÉ News that some pupils were excited because they felt they were definitely going to get their first choice but others were anxious or apprehensive and that this had caused some to be awake last night, and upset and worried.
She said some were children were extremely anxious, and that staff had been preparing children in advance of the news.
"We have told them that its really important that they are conscious that there are going to be classmates tomorrow who are maybe feeling disappointed and that they have to be aware of this and very respectful and kind when they come in tomorrow".
She said they had discussed with children that although they did have a right to be excited about their own news they should "dampen it down a little and be conscious of others".
"It's a very big message to send to young children", she said.
The CAS system was introduced in 2005 at the request of the then minister for education Noel Dempsey.
Following controversy over the exclusion annually of a small but significant number of children - mostly boys from poor areas of the city - from its schools, the system was brought in to try and ensure that children living in the city were not passed over in favour of others applying from its wider hinterland.
But children from both within and outside the city boundaries are entitled to apply.
While the system is administered centrally, each school still applies its own individual enrolment policy in choosing which pupils to admit, and a very small number of Limerick schools continue to offer the same right of entry to children from a wide hinterland well outside the city boundaries as to children living much closer to their gates.
Conversely, every weekday morning large numbers of children leave the city to travel to schools in the towns of Croom and Pallaskenry which are 22km and 19km away.
RTÉ News has been told that most of the 26 children who have been left without a school place are city children.
Chair of the Limerick Principal and Deputy Principals Association Eoin Shinners said that many of this year's applications had come from localities outside of the city.
He said he was confident that more capacity would be freed up as rural children offered places opt instead to attend schools closer to where they live.
He said the Department of Education had been informed about the capacity problem and the issue would be discussed with the department "should we have a situation where the 26, or some of them, don't receive a place in a school".
Some education sources in Limerick are privately expressing concern however that some of its schools are once again favouring children from outside the city boundaries at the expense of other children who are growing up within walking distance of their gates.
Hopes for extra resources to address issue
One secondary school teacher in St Munchin's College in Limerick City has said they are hoping that Minister for Education Norma Foley will either grant extra resources to schools to increase their size or that she will speak to the schools that give priority to children "from anywhere and everywhere", as opposed to giving priority to children living locally first.
Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Eric Nelligan said the problem is mirrored across the country but that it is noticeable in Limerick because of Limerick's common application system.
"We brought in the common application system to make sure this didn't happen, but it is happening so obviously there are flaws in the common application system."
He said that around the country, because students apply to each school individually, there are schools that are oversubscribed so it does not make the news because it is not a common system.
He said the system was introduced to help children in disadvantaged areas get into schools.
"It was brought in to make sure that everyone had equal access to schools and obviously it's not working properly and I'm hoping that schools will change their policy to prioritise Limerick City children."
Mr Nelligan said that on 8 February next, all current children must accept or decline their school place and that should open some more places.
"But after that, there will be a subsequent round in March and then into the summer, so there could be some children that could be holding out until the summertime," he added.