Thursday, 19 May 2022
Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2020 Report: Motion
I thank both Deputies for their contributions on the committee report and the broader issues related to the admissions Act. It sets out important requirements on transparency that must be adhered to in schools' admissions policies. I am conscious that the Act was commenced fully only in the past academic year.
Deputy Ó Murchú referred to the need to tackle disadvantage across society. Significant resources have been made available by the Department of Education to target disadvantage in education specifically. The Deputy will be aware that the single biggest investment in the DEIS programme was recently announced by me. Through the programme, significant resources are being made available to schools in areas with a significant level of disadvantage, to the tune of €18 million this year and rising to €32 million next year. It is very much about giving the optimum opportunity and support to all students, irrespective of their socioeconomic background or experience.
On the admissions policy, which has been raised, I am conscious that it is new. I am also conscious that all schools are required to do significant work to update their admissions policies. This has been a considerable undertaking for them. The policy has now operated for just one school cycle, namely, the 2021–22 school cycle. Even in that short time, we have been given an opportunity for some learnings, but not complete learnings. As I referred to earlier, even the information sought from the management bodies of schools on the use and impact of the provision has made for some findings. At primary level, the survey responses came from 907 schools and indicate that only 4.7% of those schools use or invoke the criterion in question. At post primary level, 537 schools responded, with 19% applying the provision.
I am conscious that the joint committee has made a recommendation, in its report, on the concept of an expert group and on that group having an opportunity to compile data that would reflect how the policy is working, specifically in respect of where, if, when and how the 25% limit is being implemented. It is clearly the view of the joint committee that there are learnings in this regard. I acknowledge that the Deputies have acknowledged the importance of having learnings. I propose that we take the opportunity to work on the joint committee's recommendation to have an expert group.
The Department of Education is happy to do that. I consider this a significant and positive way forward because it will give us an opportunity to analyse the data as they become available and make an informed judgment on how the admission policies are operating. There is an obligation on us to show we have taken informed decisions and have taken the time to inform ourselves of the operation of our schools. I propose we work with the recommendation of the joint committee for an expert group, which will work with the Department of Education in this area. I thank both Deputies for the time they have taken to engage in the important issue of schools admissions policy.