There are proposals to change the law regulating school admission policies. This follows considerable consultation with stakeholders and the public and recent campaigns for change. While reforms are needed, draft legislation that has been published is unlikely to be passed in time for children starting school next year. However there are already laws in place regulating schools in relation to admission policies that give rights to parents and children and impose obligations on schools. Parents who are applying for a school place for their child should find out about the admissions policies of the schools they are interested in and make sure they know the closing dates for application, the school’s catchment area etc. To help parents inform themselves of their rights and school obligations under the current law, here are the main provisions:
1) Schools must establish and maintain an admission policy which provides for maximum accessibility to the school and this policy must be published. A school’s admissions policy should include the policy of the school relating to admission and participation by students with special education needs. A school cannot refuse to admit a child to the school except where the refusal is in accordance with its published admissions policy. These and other requirements for school admission policies are set out in the Education Act 1998 and the Education (Welfare) Act 2000.
2) Where a board of management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the board refuses to enrol a student in the school there is a right to appeal that refusal under section 29 of the Education Act 1998. The parent of the child, or in the case of a student that has reached 18 years of age – the student, may appeal to the Secretary General of the Department of Education. In the case of an ETB school an appeal must be made in the first place to the ETB before an appeal can be made to the Secretary General. When a school refuses to admit a child they should inform parents of their right to appeal under section 29.
3) TUSLA – The Child and Family Agency, may also make a section 29 appeal. Where a child is refused admission by a school board or a person acting on behalf of the board Section 27 of the Education (Welfare) Act imposes a duty on TUSLA to make all reasonable efforts to have the child enrolled in another school.
4) The Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2012 apply to primary and post primary schools and provide that a school cannot discriminate in its admissions policy on the nine grounds contained in the acts but with exemptions – single sex schools may discriminate on gender grounds and denominational schools may give preference to applicants from one faith over others, or refuse an applicant a school place, if it can prove that refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school.
5) Section 10 the EPSEN Act allows for the NCSE to designate a school that a child with special needs can attend but this section has yet to be enacted. The School (Admissions) Bill 2016 proposes to repeal this section and to replace it with a similar provision that would also give TUSLA powers to designate a school for a child.
Where to get advice and support about your and your child’s rights under the legislation regarding school admissions policies:
TUSLA – Child and Family Agency
Phone 01 7718500
NCSE – National Council for Special Education
Phone 046 9486400
Information about the current draft legislation -the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 – which prohibits first come first serve admission policies and requires more transparency of schools is here
The Report of the Oireachtas Education Committee (which I chaired) which made recommendations on a General Scheme of a School Admissions Bill published when Ruairi Quinn was Minister is at this link
Labour has proposed an Equal Status (Admission to Schools) Bill aimed at limiting discrimination against local children not brought up in the faith of a denominational school Click