Minister Quinn publishes draft Admission to Schools bill to regulate the admission of children to primary and post primary schools
Proposed regulations would underpin a fair and transparent enrolment process that precludes school places being allocated on the basis of waiting lists and stops schools seeking deposits or payments as part of the admission process.
The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn TD, has published a draft General Scheme for an Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, 2013 as well as draft regulations for discussion ahead of enacting legislation.
The heads of bill, approved by the Cabinet, propose a new parent-friendly, equitable and consistent framework to regulate school admissions policy for all 4,000 primary and post-primary schools. If enacted, this framework will improve access to schools for all pupils and will ensure there is consistency, fairness and transparency in the admissions policies of all schools.
The Minister aims to improve the admissions process to ensure that the way schools decide on applications is structured, fair and transparent. The draft bill seeks to remove the burden from parents of appealing school decisions to refuse a place to their child - this will see an end to the current complex system of appeals to the Department under Section 29 of the Education Act, which sometimes leads to court cases.
The proposed measures empower the Minister for Education and Skills to require schools to co-operate where disputes around admissions arise. The Minister could also ultimately appoint an independent person to operate the enrolment process where a school refused to amend its practices in accordance with the legislation.
The draft regulations seek to bring a level playing pitch for families newly settled or returning to live in an area and to ensure a parent's income or ability to pay admission fees cannot be a factor that will determine school admission. The regulations will also bring an end to the "soft barriers" that can affect children with special educational needs.
Under the proposals:
Schools would not be allowed to accept applications for admission before October 1st of the year preceding the year of enrolment with a longer period allowed for boarding schools.
The Minister may regulate that no admission fees may be sought or charged as a condition of application for admission to a school.
- Schools would not be able to conduct interviews with parents and children ahead of enrolment
- Schools that can establish that they have waiting lists in place may, under a derogation, be allowed to clear those lists over a period of a few years
- Schools will be allowed to prioritise places for an applicant who is a sibling of an existing or former student
- Appeals to be dealt with at school level under simplified arrangements.
"I believe there is a better way of dealing with school admissions. These measures are about what might be described as 'good housekeeping' and will bring about greater transparency, fairness and consistency in the way schools operate their admission processes," Minister Quinn said.
"While I don't want to overly intrude in day-to-day school management the proposed new regulatory framework strikes a balance between school autonomy and fairness in our education system and would require schools to provide a better service for parents. The framework constitutes a significant public service reform aimed at substantially improving the experience between the public and schools on student admission."
The draft General Scheme and draft regulations will be issued to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection today, to allow a full public discussion, including inputs from parents and the education partners.
"I hope the Committee gives this early consideration so that we can proceed to the next stage of legislation as soon as possible" the Minister said. "Throughout this process, I have been anxious to ensure that we have a fair and balanced school admissions process. I know that many parents are happy with the schools their children attend. But there are cases where there is disappointment and dissatisfaction, with limited means of dealing with this."
The publication of the heads of bill and draft regulations follows a public consultation process held in 2011.
"I would like to thank everyone who has engaged with the public consultation on this matter to date, and I am confident that we can continue to work together to change the system for the benefit of all students, schools and families," said Minister Quinn.
Notes for Editors:
Please see attached:
Draft General Scheme of an Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2013
Draft Regulations Content of Policy entitled Education Acts 1998 and 2013 Admission Policies of Schools and Related Matters Regulations 2013
Draft Regulations on Admission Process entitled Education Acts 1998 and 2013 Procedures and Timelines for the Admission of Students to Schools and Related Matters Regulations 2013
Current appeals process for enrolment decisions-
The existing provisions of the Education Act, 1998, limit the options available to the Minister to resolve difficulties that may arise on the ground. The legislation does provide a power for the Minister to regulate the "admission of children to schools". However this power is general and the Act does not set out explicitly the extent or scope of such regulations.
The other relevant provisions of the Act specify that establishing and maintaining an enrolment policy is a function of a school, and allow for an appeal process under Section 29 of the legislation.
There are at present effectively only two remedies provided for in law for resolving difficulties relating to school admission practice. One is the Section 29 appeal system noted above. The second allows for the patron of a school or the Minister to exercise powers that bring about the removal of the board of management where there is a concern about how a Board has discharged its functions. Suspected malpractice in relation to school admission could be classed as a concern.
While Section 29 does provide an appellate process for parents and students it is a one size fits all approach and does not distinguish between a refusal to enrol simply because the number of applications exceeds the number of available places (oversubscription) as distinct from a situation where a student cannot get a place in any school in an area. The Section 29 process had triggered multiple appeals in oversubscription cases and has created a significant administrative burden for schools.