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‘Shopping around’ for schools causing difficulties, committee to be told

‘Shopping around’ for schools causing difficulties, committee to be told

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The practice of ‘shopping around for schools’ by parents has caused substantial difficulties for a significant number of schools around the country, according to organisations representing those institutions.

In some areas where schools are oversubscribed, parents apply to more than one school on behalf of their child, accept a place in one school but then take another place without informing the first school until the last minute, or sometimes not at all.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB) secretariat, which represents more than 400 voluntary schools, and the Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), representing 250 schools, have both raised this issue in submissions to the Oireachtas Committee on Education.

The JMB said the practice has posed a key challenge for schools in areas where there are more applications than places in any given year.

“Parents can, and increasingly do, accept offered places from more than one school, cancel applications late, fail to present in September, and/or fail to communicate with the school around their intentions,” the JMB said in its submission to the committee.

“We urgently need to address this anomaly if any real progress is to be made on the challenge of oversubscription.”

LoopholeSimilarly, the ETBI said: “There is a loophole regarding applications applying to other schools, or more than one school. That is, there is nothing about the timeline for when parents must tell the schools which school they are accepting.”

The submissions were made to the committee, chaired by Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe, ahead of its discussion of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2020 in Leinster House on Tuesday.

The Bill, drafted by Labour education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, proposes to remove the automatic right of entry for children or grandchildren of past pupils.

In legislation introduced in 2018 by the previous government, up to 25 per cent of the first-year intake in a secondary school could be comprised of children, or grandchildren, of past pupils.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said the Bill, which has not been opposed by the Government to date, would remove what he calls an “elitist” piece of legislation included, he argued, solely at the behest of certain influential fee-paying schools.

“This is a deliberate attempt to keep the royal bloodlines of succession through particular elite second-level schools, and it was done at the behest of those elitist second-level schools,” he said on Monday.

Representatives of five organisations representing school boards of management and management teams will appear before the committee on Tuesday.

There are mixed views among the different associations with those who have fee-paying schools among their constituents – or schools located in areas where sufficient places are not available – arguing for the retention of the rule.

In its submission, the JBM has argued that where there is oversubscription the practice of prioritising siblings and children/grandchildren of past pupils “arose from a concern for continuity of family experience and for the primacy of parental choice as protected in the Constitution”.

“Schools, like families, are not solely operational entities; they thrive on relationships, values, continuity, local community cohesion and loyalties built up over time and, indeed, over generations,” it says.

ExclusionIn its submission, the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals says it is “understandable” that schools may wish to prioritise children and grandchildren of past pupils as they have previous connections with the school, have contributed to its development and character and share common values.

However, it continues: “The operation of this criterion with the potential to reserve 25 percent of places can have the consequence of excluding newcomers to the area, international children, members of the Travelling community and parents who may not have completed their own education yet value education for their children.”

The submissions suggest that the numbers of schools which operate the parent and grandparent rule is a small minority, and the criterion is usually below that of catchment area, feeder schools and the sibling rule.

The ETBI says it does exist in a small number of schools, but says it is low down the list of selection criteria.

“As such, it would not be a cause of great concern to us if it were removed, provided it is removed for every school.”

The Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools said school boards must retain a role to stake a balance between competing interests and that any consideration of the Bill must take that into account. The association representing special education schools and classes has supported the removal of the rule, saying it is “contrary to the centrality” of a child’s specific needs.

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