Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2020 Report: Motion


4:40 pm

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I would like to begin by acknowledging and thanking the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science for its detailed report on the Bill, particularly noting the committee's emphasis on ensuring equity and access in the admissions policies of Irish schools. This ambition is shared by the Department, which commits to creating an education system in which everyone has access to an excellent education that is inclusive of all, irrespective of belief system, race, ethnicity, class, culture, gender, language or ability.

As Deputies are aware, the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 was signed into law in July 2018. The overall objective of the Act is to provide a framework for school enrolment that is designed to ensure that every child is catered for and that the way in which schools decide on applications for admission is transparent. It requires all schools to set out clearly the admissions criteria that are used for parents and prospective parents.

The Act provides for schools to explicitly state in the school's admission policy that it will not discriminate against an applicant for admission on the grounds of disability, special educational needs, sexual orientation, family status, membership of the Traveller community, race, civil status, gender or religion while including provision for single-sex schools and denominational schools to reflect, in their admission policy, the exemptions applicable to such schools under equality legislation. The Act also sets out certain criteria that schools cannot take into account when deciding on an application for admission, such as consideration of a student's academic ability, skills or aptitude, consideration of a parent's occupation, financial status, academic ability, skills or aptitude, apart from exceptions provided by the Act, as a consideration for the offer of a school place.

In January 2020, certain sections of the Act were commenced in order to be operational in time for the admission processes for the 2021-2022 school year. From February 2020 all recognised schools in Ireland were required to draft a new school admission policy in accordance with the Act's requirements. These new admission policies which have been approved by patrons after consultation with parents of children attending the school, are now published on individual school websites. These policies applied for admission to school for the first time last September. As such, the operation of this Act and its provisions remains in relatively early stages. Schools have worked extremely hard in developing, consulting on and drafting these new policies. The Act requires that any subsequent changes to a school's admission policy requires the approval process to be undertaken again before the admission policy could be published by the school.

The Bill proposes to delete section 62(10)(b) of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018. The section that the Bill proposes to delete allows schools, and this is an important consideration, if they so desire, to take into account a student's connection to a school by virtue of a parent or grandparent having previously attended the school when deciding on an application for admission to that school. This is subject to a limit of 25% on the number of available places that can be filled by a school using this criterion. This was used in recognition of the ties which parents, grandparents and broader families may have to schools. The use of this provision is subject to the discretion of the school, and it should also be noted that this criteria has no impact on schools where there is no oversubscription.

The Department sought information from management bodies of schools in relation to the use and impact of this provision in respect of school admissions for September 2021. The responses received from schools indicated that there are a minimal number of schools nationally that use the full 25% provided for in the Act. At primary level, 907 schools responded to the survey, and of these only 4.7% of them use this criterion. At post-primary 537 responded with 19% applying this provision. However it is worthwhile to note that only 17 of these schools used the full 25% allowed for by the Act.

The joint education committee has made a number of recommendations in its report, which will be considered fully by my Department. The committee recommends establishing an expert group to review and compile data on school admission policies. I am supportive of this recommendation. I am also very mindful that the current admission processes of schools is relatively new and has only taken effect for the first time for admission to the 2020-2021 school year. To be effective, a longer timeframe is required for the Department and expert group, as recommended by the committee, to undertake a review and compilation of data to provide an opportunity for a greater analysis and evaluation of the measure set against a number of school admission cycles. This would also avoid burdening schools with having to amend school admission policies so soon after they were implemented for the 2020-2021 school year. I look forward to engaging with the committee further on the nature of such a review as recommended.


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